1590s, "conception, mental scheme," from Late Latin theoria (Jerome), from Greek theōria "contemplation, speculation; a looking at, viewing; a sight, show, spectacle, things looked at," from theōrein "to consider, speculate, look at," from theōros "spectator," from thea "a view" (see theater) + horan "to see," which is possibly from PIE root *wer- (3) "to perceive." Philosophy credits sense evolution in the Greek word to Pythagoras.
Earlier in this sense was theorical (n.), late 15c. Sense of "principles or methods of a science or art" (rather than its practice) is first recorded 1610s (as in music theory, which is the science of musical composition, apart from practice or performance). Sense of "an intelligible explanation based on observation and reasoning" is from 1630s.
1640s, "act or process of setting free; state of being disengaged," from French désengagement, from desengager (see disengage). By 1701 as "freedom from engrossing occupation, leisure."
1610s, "contemplative," with -al (1) + Late Latin theoreticus "of or pertaining to theory," from Greek theoretikos "contemplative, speculative, pertaining to theory" (by Aristotle contrasted to praktikos), from theoretos "that may be seen or considered," from theorein "to consider, look at" (see theory). Meaning "pertaining to theory, making deductions from theory not from fact" (opposed to practical) is from 1650s; earlier in this sense was theorical (c. 1500). Meaning "ideal, hypothetical" is from 1790s (implied in theoretically). Related: theoretician.
variant of encase.
Theory of Incasement, an old theory of reproduction which assumed that when the first animal of each species was created, the germs of all other individuals of the same species which were to come from it were incased in its ova. The discovery of spermatozoa developed the theory in two opposite directions: the ovulists, or ovists, held still to the theory of incasement in the female while the animalculists, or spermists, entertained the theory of incasement in the male. [Century Dictionary]