AskDefine | Define principle

Dictionary Definition



1 a basic generalization that is accepted as true and that can be used as a basis for reasoning or conduct; "their principles of composition characterized all their works" [syn: rule]
2 a rule or standard especially of good behavior; "a man of principle"; "he will not violate his principles"
3 a basic truth or law or assumption; "the principles of democracy"
4 a rule or law concerning a natural phenomenon or the function of a complex system; "the principle of the conservation of mass"; "the principle of jet propulsion"; "the right-hand rule for inductive fields" [syn: rule]
5 rule of personal conduct [syn: precept]
6 (law) an explanation of the fundamental reasons (especially an explanation of the working of some device in terms of laws of nature); "the rationale for capital punishment"; "the principles of internal-combustion engines" [syn: rationale]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Latin principium, beginning, foundation


  • /ˈprɪnsɪpəl/ or /ˈprɪnsəpəl/



  1. A fundamental assumption.
    We need some sort of principles to reason from.
  2. A rule used to choose among solutions to a problem.
    The principle of least privilege holds that a process should only receive the permissions it needs.
  3. In the context of "generally plural": Moral rule or aspect.
    I don't doubt your principles; you are clearly a person of principle.
    It's the principle of the thing; I won't do business with someone I can't trust.
  4. A rule or law of nature, or the basic idea on how the laws of nature are applied.
    Bernoulli's principle
    The Pauli Exclusion Principle prevents two fermions from occupying the same state.
    The principle of the internal combustion engine
  5. In the context of "somewhat dated": A fundamental essence, particularly one producing a given quality.
    Many believe that life is the result of some vital principle.
    Cathartine is the bitter, purgative principle of senna. — Gregory.
  6. A beginning.
    Doubting sad end of principle unsound. — Spenser.

Usage notes

Principle (moral rule) is often confused with principal (most important.) Consult both definitions if in doubt.
The confused may care to remember that 'The principal alphabetic principle places A before E' as a reminder of the relative spelling.


  • (moral rule or aspect) tenet

Related terms


fundamental assumption
  • Arabic:
  • Chinese: 原則, 原则 (yuánzé)
  • Dutch: principe
  • Finnish: perusoletus, peruste, prinsiippi
  • French: principe
  • German: Prinzip
  • Greek: αρχή (archí)
  • Hebrew:
  • Hungarian: elv
  • Italian: principio
  • Japanese: 主義
  • Korean: 원리 (wolli)
  • Portuguese: princípio
  • Russian: принцип
  • Spanish: principio
  • Swedish: princip
rule to solve a problem
  • Finnish: periaate
  • French: principe
  • Hebrew:
  • Japanese: 主義, 原則
  • Portuguese: princípio
  • Russian: принцип
moral rule or aspect
  • Czech: zásada
  • Finnish: periaate, prinsiippi
  • French: principe
  • Hebrew:
  • Japanese: qualifier general 主義, 信念; qualifier for an organization 行動指針
  • Kurdish:
  • Portuguese: princípio
  • Russian: принцип
rule of nature
  • Czech: princip
  • Finnish: periaate, laki, toimintaperiaate
  • French: principe
  • Hebrew:
  • Japanese: 原理
  • Portuguese: princípio

Extensive Definition

For the term in chemistry, see principle (chemistry).
Not to be confused with principal.
A principle is an abstract object which signifies a point (or points) of probability on a subject (e.g., the principle of creativity), which allows for the formation of rule or norm or law by (human) interpretation of the phenomena (events) that can be created. The rules, norms and laws depend on and co-create a particular context to formulate. A principle is the underlying part (or spirit) of the basis for an evolutionary normative or formative development, which is the object of subjective experience and/or interpretation. For example, the ethics of someone may be seen as a set of principles that the individual obeys in the form of rules, as guidance or law. These principles thus form the basis for such ethics.
Reducing a rule to its principle says that, for the purpose at hand, the principle will not / cannot be questioned or further derived (unless you create new rules). This is a convenient way of reducing the complexity of an argumentation.
The point of principle allows to create all probable versions under its subjective theme, as its reality creation/evolvement under that subject is open-ended and unpredictable relying on choice and option. Rules and laws capture a consensus that certain actions and events will occur under a principle (or a combination of principles).
A principled view for example, implies that an individual has a firm understanding of the underlying principle(s) of events and the rules and laws which govern them inherently and according to our consensus.
principle in Czech: Princip
principle in Danish: Princip
principle in German: Grundsatz
principle in Spanish: Principio
principle in French: Principe (philosophie)
principle in Japanese: 原理
principle in Russian: Принцип
principle in Albanian: Parimi
principle in Simple English: Principle
principle in Slovak: Princíp
principle in Finnish: Periaate
principle in Swedish: Princip
principle in Yiddish: פרינציפ

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Procrustean law, a belief, a priori truth, activity, ambition, antecedents, article of faith, aspiration, at bottom, attitude, axiom, base, basement, basically, basis, bearing wall, bed, bedding, bedrock, belief, brocard, call, calling, campaign, canon, causation, cause, cause and effect, center, code, commandment, commitment, conscience, consideration, convention, core, credo, creed, criterion, crusade, determinant, determinative, dictate, dictum, doctrine, dogma, drive, element, elements, elixir, essence, essential, essentially, ethic, etiology, factor, faith, floor, flooring, flower, focus, fond, footing, form, formality, formula, formulary, foundation, fundament, fundamental, fundamentally, fundamentals, general principle, gist, given, goal, golden rule, grammar, gravamen, great cause, ground, grounds, groundwork, guide, guideline, guiding light, guiding principle, guiding star, hardpan, heart, honesty, hypostasis, idea, ideal, ideally, imperative, in essence, in theory, inner essence, inspiration, integrity, intention, interest, issue, kernel, law, law of nature, lifework, lodestar, mainspring, marrow, mass movement, matter, maxim, meat, mitzvah, model, moral, morality, morals, motive, movement, norm, norma, notion, nub, nucleus, nuts and bolts, occasion, order of nature, ordinance, pavement, philosophy, pith, point of view, postulate, precept, prescribed form, prescription, principium, principles, probity, proposition, quid, quiddity, quintessence, radical, reason, reason for being, regulation, riprap, rock bottom, rubric, rudiment, rudiments, rule, sake, sap, score, seat, self-evident truth, sentiment, set form, settled principle, sill, solid ground, solid rock, soul, source, spirit, spring, standard, standing order, stereobate, stimulus, stuff, stylobate, substance, substratum, substruction, substructure, teaching, tenet, terra firma, the nitty-gritty, theorem, theoretically, truism, truth, ulterior motive, underbuilding, undercarriage, undergirding, underpinning, understruction, understructure, universal law, universal truth, uprightness, usage, viewpoint, vocation, working principle, working rule
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