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Wordnet 3.0

NOUN (3)

1. a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena;
- Example: "theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses"
- Example: "true in fact and theory"

2. a tentative insight into the natural world; a concept that is not yet verified but that if true would explain certain facts or phenomena;
- Example: "a scientific hypothesis that survives experimental testing becomes a scientific theory"
- Example: "he proposed a fresh theory of alkalis that later was accepted in chemical practices"
[syn: hypothesis, possibility, theory]

3. a belief that can guide behavior;
- Example: "the architect has a theory that more is less"
- Example: "they killed him on the theory that dead men tell no tales"


The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48:

Theory \The"o*ry\, n.; pl. Theories. [F. th['e]orie, L. theoria, Gr. ? a beholding, spectacle, contemplation, speculation, fr. ? a spectator, ? to see, view. See Theater.] 1. A doctrine, or scheme of things, which terminates in speculation or contemplation, without a view to practice; hypothesis; speculation. [1913 Webster] Note: "This word is employed by English writers in a very loose and improper sense. It is with them usually convertible into hypothesis, and hypothesis is commonly used as another term for conjecture. The terms theory and theoretical are properly used in opposition to the terms practice and practical. In this sense, they were exclusively employed by the ancients; and in this sense, they are almost exclusively employed by the Continental philosophers." --Sir W. Hamilton. [1913 Webster] 2. An exposition of the general or abstract principles of any science; as, the theory of music. [1913 Webster] 3. The science, as distinguished from the art; as, the theory and practice of medicine. [1913 Webster] 4. The philosophical explanation of phenomena, either physical or moral; as, Lavoisier's theory of combustion; Adam Smith's theory of moral sentiments. [1913 Webster] Atomic theory, Binary theory, etc. See under Atomic, Binary, etc. [1913 Webster] Syn: Hypothesis, speculation. Usage: Theory, Hypothesis. A theory is a scheme of the relations subsisting between the parts of a systematic whole; an hypothesis is a tentative conjecture respecting a cause of phenomena. [1913 Webster] Theosoph
WordNet (r) 3.0 (2006):

theory n 1: a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena; "theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses"; "true in fact and theory" 2: a tentative insight into the natural world; a concept that is not yet verified but that if true would explain certain facts or phenomena; "a scientific hypothesis that survives experimental testing becomes a scientific theory"; "he proposed a fresh theory of alkalis that later was accepted in chemical practices" [syn: hypothesis, possibility, theory] 3: a belief that can guide behavior; "the architect has a theory that more is less"; "they killed him on the theory that dead men tell no tales"
Moby Thesaurus II by Grady Ward, 1.0:

92 Moby Thesaurus words for "theory": apprehension, assumption, attitude, base, basis, body of theory, climate of opinion, common belief, community sentiment, conceit, concept, conception, conclusion, conjecture, consensus gentium, consideration, estimate, estimation, ethos, explanation, eye, fancy, feeling, general belief, grounds, guess, guesswork, harmonics, harmony, hunch, hypothesis, idea, image, imago, impression, intellectual object, judgment, lights, melodics, memory-trace, mental image, mental impression, mind, music, music theory, musicality, musicography, musicology, mystique, notion, observation, opinion, perception, perhaps, personal judgment, point of view, popular belief, position, posture, premise, presentiment, presumption, prevailing belief, public belief, public opinion, reaction, recept, reflection, representation, rhythmics, sentiment, sight, speculation, stance, supposal, suppose, supposition, surmise, suspicion, tentative explanation, theoretical structure, there, thinking, thither, thitherward, thought, understanding, unified theory, view, way of thinking, yon, yonder
The Jargon File (version 4.4.7, 29 Dec 2003):

theory n. The consensus, idea, plan, story, or set of rules that is currently being used to inform a behavior. This usage is a generalization and (deliberate) abuse of the technical meaning. ?What's the theory on fixing this TECO loss?? ?What's the theory on dinner tonight?? (?Chinatown, I guess.?) ? What's the current theory on letting lusers on during the day?? ?The theory behind this change is to fix the following well-known screw....?
The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing (18 March 2015):

theory The consensus, idea, plan, story, or set of rules that is currently being used to inform a behaviour. This usage is a generalisation and (deliberate) abuse of the technical meaning. "What's the theory on fixing this TECO loss?" "What's the theory on dinner tonight?" ("Chinatown, I guess.") "What's the current theory on letting lusers on during the day?" "The theory behind this change is to fix the following well-known screw...." (1994-12-14)