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principle (n.)

late 14c., "origin, source, beginning; 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." Used absolutely for (good or moral) principle from 1650s.

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" is recorded from 1802. The English -l- apparently is by analogy of participle, etc.

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Definitions of principle from WordNet

principle (n.)
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
Synonyms: rule
principle (n.)
a rule or standard especially of good behavior;
he will not violate his principles
a man of principle
principle (n.)
a basic truth or law or assumption;
the principles of democracy
principle (n.)
a rule or law concerning a natural phenomenon or the function of a complex system;
the principle of jet propulsion
the principle of the conservation of mass
Synonyms: rule
principle (n.)
rule of personal conduct;
Synonyms: precept
principle (n.)
(law) an explanation of the fundamental reasons (especially an explanation of the working of some device in terms of laws of nature);
the principles of internal-combustion engines
Synonyms: rationale
From wordnet.princeton.edu