Argument from beauty

Schermafdruk 2018-06-28 10.49.46‘While the standard model dictates the existence of the Higgs boson, the theory also requires that the particle’s mass be enormously greater than it seems actually to be. To deal with this discrepancy one could “amend the theory” to give the right mass, but that requires that the number be fudged to exactly counterbalance the mass discrepancy. This sort of ad hoc tuning of numbers offends the sense of mathematical beauty and naturalness that physicists strive for in their theories. Susy [supersymmetry theory] takes care of that problem by predicting other particles, “superpartners,” that can counterbalance the excess mass of the Higgs by just the right amount so that the mass doesn’t have to be fudged in what seems like an arbitrary way.’

According to this account, physicists support the acceptability of supersymmetry theory by referring to its mathematical beauty. Since the argument fits the form q is T, because q is Z, it can be identified as a second-order predicate argument. While ‘T’ has the fixed meaning ‘is true’, in this specific case, q is instantiated by ‘susy’, T by ‘is true’ and Z by ‘is beautiful’.

Susy (q) is true (T), because susy (q) is beautiful (Z)

Second-order predicate arguments are further differentiated by identifying the types of statement in the conclusion and the premise. In this case, the former is a statement of (logical) value and the latter a statement of (aesthetic) value, which means that we are dealing with a second-order predicate argument supporting a value with another value (2 pre VV).

The trivial name of second-order predicate arguments is derived from the characterization of the relationship between the predicates Z and T. In this example, the mathematical beauty of the theory (Z) renders it true (T). We can therefore call such an argument an ‘argument from beauty’.

Other variants of this argument are the ‘argument from simplicity’, the ‘argument from naturalness’, and the ‘argument from elegance’. As Sarewitz (2018, original italics) writes:

‘What’s worrying Hossenfelder is that theory-making in fundamental physics is being driven not by experimental confirmation of key hypotheses but by subjective criteria of aesthetics. Physicists use words like “beauty,” “simplicity,” “naturalness,” and “elegance” to describe the ineffable sense that the mathematics explaining a theory just feels right, and they believe that such aesthetically satisfying theories are more likely to describe reality than those that feel ad hoc or contrived.’


Daniel Sarewitz (June 22, 2018). All ye need to know: The impossibility – and the necessity – of distinguishing science from non-science. The Weekly Standard.

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