theoretical

theoretical, *speculative, academic can be applied to minds, types of reasoning or philosophizing, or branches of learning as meaning concerned principally with abstractions and theories, sometimes at the expense of practical basis or application. Theoretical in its most usual and nonderogatory sense applies to branches of learning (as sciences) which deal with the inferences drawn from observed facts and from the results of experiments and with the laws or theories that explain them
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the distinguishing feature of theoretical science is the anticipation of facts from experience— Georg von Wright

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In this sense the term is often opposed to applied, which describes branches of learning which have to do with the putting of such laws and theories into use (as in mechanics, in industry, or in social reform)
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theoretical versus applied chemistry

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applied ethics is grounded upon theoretical ethics

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a purely theoretical definition would be that a person is emotionally sensitive when many stimuli produce emotions in him— Russell

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But theoretical often implies a divorce from actuality or reality that makes one unable to see things as they are and usually makes him see them only in the terms of preexistent ideas or theories. In this sense it is opposed to practical
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seems compelled to establish that . . . the book does have great practical importance in spite of its predominantly theoretical character— M. G. White

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things that had seemed drearily theoretical, dry, axiomatic, platitudinal, showed themselves to be great generalizations from a torrent of human effort and mortal endeavor— Benson

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Speculative (see also THOUGHTFUL 1) may go further than theoretical in suggesting a deep interest in theorizing or in forming theories or hypotheses and often additionally implies a daring use of the imagination
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the rights of man . . . were necessarily more abstract, more detached from usage and concrete applicability, more open to speculative interpre-tation— Sabine

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so vaguely speculative are they that their author found it necessary to explain them in lengthy prefaces—W. J. Fisher

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Often, however, there is very little difference evident in the use of these terms
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was a great inventor and builder, but in the speculative and theoretic side of science he had little interest— Buchan

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this is about as far as speculative chemistry will take one in this field; and the rest of the subject is experimental— Furnas

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Academic (see also PEDANTIC) carries a much stronger implication of a habit of looking at a thing, or things in general, abstractly, without reference to real life or practical concerns, and often in terms of the theories and dicta of a particular school (as of literature or art) (academic thinkers and schoolmen, men whom the free spaces of thought frightened and who felt safe only behind secure fences— Partington)
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apart from its academic tendency to divorce form from matter, I cannot believe that any such theory of poetry, built on a neurosis, is admirable or adequate— Day Lewis

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Analogous words: conjectural, hypothetical (see SUPPOSED): postu-lated, premised, presupposed (see PRESUPPOSE)

New Dictionary of Synonyms. 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • theoretical — UK US /θɪəˈretɪkəl/ adjective ► based on ideas or theories, rather than practical uses of something or actual events: »theoretical economics/physics »theoretical models/analyses/approaches »a theoretical framework/foundation/underpinning ►… …   Financial and business terms

  • theoretical — I adjective abstract, academic, assumed, conjectural, doctrina, doctrinaire, hypothetical, ideational, ideative, ideological, impractical, open to proof, philosophical, postulated, postulatory, presumed, presumptive, pure, ratio, speculative,… …   Law dictionary

  • theoretical — (adj.) 1610s, from L.L. theoreticus of or pertaining to theory (c.397), from Gk. theoretikos contemplative, pertaining to theory (by Aristotle contrasted to praktikos), from theoretos that may be seen or considered, from theorein to consider,… …   Etymology dictionary

  • theoretical — [adj] hypothetical abstract, academic, analytical, as a premise, assumed, codified, conjectural, contingent, formalistic, formularized, general, ideal, idealized, ideational, ideological, imaginative, impractical, instanced, intellectual, in the… …   New thesaurus

  • theoretical — (also theoretic) ► ADJECTIVE 1) concerned with or involving theory rather than its practical application. 2) based on or calculated through theory. DERIVATIVES theoretically adverb …   English terms dictionary

  • theoretical — [thē΄ə ret′i kəl] adj. [< LL theoreticus < Gr theōrētikos < AL] 1. of or constituting theory 2. limited to or based on theory; not practical or applied; hypothetical 3. tending to theorize; speculative: Also theoretic theoretically adv …   English World dictionary

  • theoretical — theo|ret|i|cal W3 [θıəˈretıkəl US ˌθi:ə ] adj also theo|ret|ic [θıəˈretık US ˌθi:ə ] 1.) relating to the study of ideas, especially scientific ideas, rather than with practical uses of the ideas or practical experience →↑theory, practical… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • theoretical — [[t]θi͟ːəre̱tɪk(ə)l[/t]] 1) ADJ: usu ADJ n A theoretical study or explanation is based on or uses the ideas and abstract principles that relate to a particular subject, rather than the practical aspects or uses of it. ...theoretical physics. 2)… …   English dictionary

  • theoretical — the|o|ret|i|cal [ ,θiə retıkl ] adjective ** based on theories or ideas instead of practical experience: The course is designed to be practical rather than theoretical. a. relating to theories or ideas: the theoretical framework of the research b …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • theoretical */*/ — UK [ˌθɪəˈretɪk(ə)l] / US [ˌθɪəˈretɪk(ə)l] adjective 1) based on theories or ideas instead of on practical experience The course is designed to be practical rather than theoretical. a) relating to theories or ideas the theoretical framework of the …   English dictionary

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