having a hard time understanding the “symmetry principle.” For the most part I understand it on a sentence to sentence level, but can’t seem to put it together. In Godfrey Smith he states that explanations should be uniform, and we shouldn’t give different explanations for different beliefs that we think are true and beliefs we think are false. Is he simply stating we should just report the facts, with no indication of personal beliefs and opinions? Godfrey Smith goes on to explain scientific communities and the social norms within that community. He states that scientists tend to look down on beliefs found in other communities, which is part of the norm. Is he talking about communities like pseudoscience and religion? If these are the communities he is talking about, it seems to me that scientists would in a sense need to look down on them in order make a distinction between science and everything else.

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    Can you put this in some context? There's mathematical symmetry, symmetry in physics, symmetry in nature, the "fearful symmetry" of Blake's tyger, etc. Does everyone but me know who Godfrey Smith is? His Wiki page says nothing about symmetry. And as a basic principle of modern epistemology: If it's not on Wikipedia, it didn't happen.
    – user4894
    Mar 13, 2015 at 3:40
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    I think he's referring to Peter Godfrey-Smith and the sociological principle of symmetry, i.e. the postmodern treatment of all epistemological methods as equally valid, and in particular the rejection of favoring the scientific process as the best, or only, such method. (Editorial: the fact that postmodern sociologists go to great effort to clothe their arguments in the trappings of disinterested, empirical, science has always seemed the height of hypocrisy to me.) Anyway, here's a couple relevant Google Books links.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 13, 2015 at 11:11
  • PS to first commentor: since your Godfrey Smith studied philosophy and biological evolution, maybe he cares about bilateral symmetry? ;)
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 13, 2015 at 11:12

1 Answer 1


The symmetry principle seems a means rather than a principle; and a means by which the sociological or anthropological imagination can work with the scientific community as an object of study. That is not to judge its truth-claims or accord them special prestige; but to note that they make truth-claims and that they do have prestige as a community.

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