on principle


an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct: a person of good moral principles.
a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived: the principles of modern physics.
a fundamental doctrine or tenet; a distinctive ruling opinion: the principles of the Stoics.
principles, a personal or specific basis of conduct or management: to adhere to one's principles; a kindergarten run on modern principles.
guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct: a person of principle.
an adopted rule or method for application in action: a working principle for general use.
a rule or law exemplified in natural phenomena, the construction or operation of a machine, the working of a system, or the like: the principle of capillary attraction.
the method of formation, operation, or procedure exhibited in a given case: a community organized on the patriarchal principle.
a determining characteristic of something; essential quality.
an originating or actuating agency or force: growth is the principle of life.
an actuating agency in the mind or character, as an instinct, faculty, or natural tendency: the principles of human behavior.
Chemistry. a constituent of a substance, especially one giving to it some distinctive quality or effect.
Obsolete. beginning or commencement.
in principle, in essence or substance; fundamentally: to accept a plan in principle.
on principle,
according to personal rules for right conduct; as a matter of moral principle: He refused on principle to agree to the terms of the treaty.
according to a fixed rule, method, or practice: He drank hot milk every night on principle.

1350–1400; Middle English, alteration of Middle French principe or Latin prīncipium, on the analogy of manciple. See principium

principal, principle (see usage note at principal)(see synonym study at the current entry).

1, 2, 3. Principle, canon, rule imply something established as a standard or test, for measuring, regulating, or guiding conduct or practice. A principle is a general and fundamental truth that may be used in deciding conduct or choice: to adhere to principle. Canon originally referring to an edict of the Church (a meaning that it still retains), is used of any principle, law, or critical standard that is officially approved, particularly in aesthetics and scholarship: canons of literary criticism. A rule usually something adopted or enacted, is often the specific application of a principle: the golden rule. 2. theorem, axiom, postulate, proposition. 5. integrity, probity, rectitude, honor.

See principal.
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World English Dictionary
principle (ˈprɪnsɪpəl)
1.  a standard or rule of personal conduct: a man of principle
2.  (often plural) a set of such moral rules: he'd stoop to anything; he has no principles
3.  adherence to such a moral code; morality: it's not the money but the principle of the thing; torn between principle and expediency
4.  a fundamental or general truth or law: first principles
5.  the essence of something: the male principle
6.  a source or fundamental cause; origin: principle of life
7.  a rule or law concerning a natural phenomenon or the behaviour of a system: the principle of the conservation of mass
8.  an underlying or guiding theory or belief: the hereditary principle; socialist principles
9.  chem a constituent of a substance that gives the substance its characteristics and behaviour: bitter principle
10.  in principle in theory or essence
11.  on principle because of or in demonstration of a principle
usage  Principle and principal are often confused: the principal (not principle) reason for his departure; the plan was approved in principle (not in principal)

Principle (ˈprɪnsɪpəl)
Christian Science another word for God

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

c.1380, "fundamental truth or proposition," from Anglo-Norm. principle, from O.Fr. principe, from L. principium (pl. principia) "a beginning, first part," from princeps (see prince). Meaning "origin, source" is attested from 1413. Sense of "general rule of conduct" is from
c.1532. Used absolutely for (good or moral) principle from 1653.
"It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them." [Adlai Stevenson, speech, New York City, Aug. 27, 1952]
Hence principled "moral" (1697). Scientific sense of "general law of nature" is recorded from 1802.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

principle prin·ci·ple (prĭn'sə-pəl)

  1. A basic truth, law, or assumption.

  2. A rule or law concerning the functioning of natural phenomena or mechanical processes.

  3. One of the elements composing a chemical compound, especially one that gives some special quality or effect.

  4. The essential ingredient in a drug.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

on principle

  1. On moral or ethical grounds. As James Russell Lowell wrote about Alexander Pope in 1871, "There was a time when I could not read Pope, but disliked him on principle." [First half of 1800s]

  2. According to a fixed rule or practice. For example, The police were locking up the demonstrators on principle. [First half of 1800s]

  3. on general principle. For no special reason, in general, as in Dean won't touch broccoli on general principle. [First half of 1800s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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