late 14c., "origin, source, beginning" (a sense now obsolete), also "rule of conduct; axiom, basic assumption; elemental aspect of a craft or discipline," from Anglo-French principle, Old French principe "origin, cause, principle," from Latin principium (plural principia) "a beginning, commencement, origin, first part," in plural "foundation, elements," from princeps (genitive principis) "first man, chief leader; ruler, sovereign," noun use of adjective meaning "that takes first," from primus "first" (see prime (adj.)) + root of capere "to take" (from PIE root *kap- "to grasp").
The English -l- apparently is by analogy of participle, manciple, etc., also principal. From the notion of "one of the fundamental tenets or doctrines of a system, a law or truth on which others are founded" comes the sense of "a right rule of conduct" (1530s).
It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them. [Adlai Stevenson, speech, New York City, Aug. 27, 1952]
Scientific sense of "general law of nature," by virtue of which a machine or instrument operates, is recorded from 1802.
"honorable, moral, having (good or right) principles," 1690s, from principle, which was used as a verb 17c.-18c. meaning "to ground (someone) in principles" (whether good or ill). In later instances from the noun.
"fundamental principles," c. 1600, plural of Latin principium "a beginning, origin" (see principle (n.)). Especially as the short form of the title of Newton's book (published 1687). Hence principles "earliest or elementary parts of a subject" (1530s).
1968, "in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence," named for (and by) Laurence Johnston Peter (1919-1990) Canadian-born U.S. educationalist and author, who described it in his book of the same name (1969).
In logic, the assumption of that which in the beginning was set forth to be proved; begging the question: a fallacy or fault of reasoning belonging to argumentations whose conclusions really follow from their premises, either necessarily or with the degree of probability pretended, the fault consisting in the assumption of a premise which no person holding the antagonistic views will admit. [Century Dictionary]
Proto-Indo-European root forming prepositions, etc., meaning "forward," and, by extension, "in front of, before, first, chief, toward, near, against," etc.
It forms all or part of: afford; approach; appropriate; approve; approximate; barbican; before; deprive; expropriate; far; first; for; for-; fore; fore-; forefather; foremost; former (adj.); forth; frame; frau; fret; Freya; fro; froward; from; furnish; furniture; further; galore; hysteron-proteron; impervious; improbity; impromptu; improve; palfrey; par (prep.); para- (1) "alongside, beyond; altered; contrary; irregular, abnormal;" paradise; pardon; paramount; paramour; parvenu; pellucid; per; per-; percent; percussion; perennial; perestroika; perfect; perfidy; perform; perfume; perfunctory; perhaps; peri-; perish; perjury; permanent; permeate; permit; pernicious; perpendicular; perpetual; perplex; persecute; persevere; perspective; perspire; persuasion; pertain; peruse; pervade; pervert; pierce; portray; postprandial; prae-; Prakrit; pre-; premier; presbyter; Presbyterian; preterite; pride; priest; primal; primary; primate; primavera; prime; primeval; primitive; primo; primogenitor; primogeniture; primordial; primus; prince; principal; principle; prior; pristine; private; privilege; privy; pro (n.2) "a consideration or argument in favor;" pro-; probably; probe; probity; problem; proceed; proclaim; prodigal; produce; profane; profess; profile; profit; profound; profuse; project; promise; prompt; prone; proof; proper; property; propinquity; prophet; prose; prostate; prosthesis; protagonist; Protean; protect; protein; Proterozoic; protest; proto-; protocol; proton; protoplasm; Protozoa; proud; prove; proverb; provide; provoke; prow; prowess; proximate; Purana; purchase; purdah; reciprocal; rapprochement; reproach; reprove; veneer.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit pari "around, about, through," parah "farther, remote, ulterior," pura "formerly, before," pra- "before, forward, forth;" Avestan pairi- "around," paro "before;" Hittite para "outside of," Greek peri "around, about, near, beyond," pera "across, beyond," paros "before," para "from beside, beyond," pro "before;" Latin pro "before, for, on behalf of, instead of," porro "forward," prae "before," per "through;" Old Church Slavonic pra-dedu "great-grandfather;" Russian pere- "through;" Lithuanian per "through;" Old Irish ire "farther," roar "enough;" Gothic faura "before," Old English fore (prep.) "before, in front of," (adv.) "before, previously," fram "forward, from," feor "to a great distance, long ago;" German vor "before, in front of;" Old Irish air- Gothic fair-, German ver-, Old English fer-, intensive prefixes.
"the principle of monarchical government; preference for monarchy," by 1791, from French monarchisme, from monarchie (see monarchy).