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A principle ( plural : principles ; from the Latin principium = beginning, beginning, origin, principle) is that from which another has its origin. It represents a given regularity that is superior to other regularities (the term regularity can be replaced here in individual cases by terms such as law , natural law , rule , guideline , behavior guideline , principle or postulate ). In the classic sense, the principle is at the top of the list, but it is less strict in everyday usage. In addition, there is a concept of principle that allows a chain of laws (rules, etc.) (e.g. the principle of the social market economy). The concrete meaning depends on the context.


Principles can be divided into axiomatic and systematic principles.

  1. Axiomatic principles declare an observation to be a law or are simply based on the postulate of a law. In this case, for example, a law of nature is placed in front of other laws of nature, or a rule of behavior takes precedence over other rules of behavior.
  2. Systematic principles: The definition of the logical structure of a system is synonymous with the formulation of its principle. A systematic principle exists when a certain effect can be traced back to the constellation of specific factors that always produce the same effect in this constellation. Typically, the principle is not determined by the total amount of contributing factors, but by the smallest possible amount of factors that produce this effect. In this sense, a principle is determined by the smallest possible algorithm that is necessary to generate the special effect. As a result of the resulting simplicity, a principle can often (also in an interdisciplinary manner) be transferred from one system to another and is therefore not infrequently found in a wide variety of cross-species areas of life. In practice, one always speaks of a principle when one suspects either a superordinate law or a definable rule behind a certain effect. Because this law is usually not easily definable, the principle is usually named after the effect and not after the actual law.
  • In general terms, a principle is a principle , a fixed rule that one adheres to. Example: He is a man of principle and stands by what he says.
    For a petty, stubborn person who primarily pedantically insists on his principles, even when they are inappropriate, the negative connotation term principle rider has established itself. The creation and dissemination of the term principle rider is demonstrably attributable to Prince Heinrich LXXII. Attributed to
    Reuss zu Lobenstein-Ebersdorf because he had the following text printed in the Vossische Zeitung in 1845 : "For 20 years I have been riding around on a principle, ie I demand that everyone be named by their title. [...]" See also: List of winged words : "To ride around on a principle" .
  • In philosophy , a principle is that on which something is based, by which it is held, the ultimate ground, the primal ground, origin, starting point of everything that exists, and finally that on which all thinking, reasoning and reasoning is based. Examples are the so-called principles of reason of consistency or of sufficient reason .

Legal principles

In jurisprudence , “principle” means, similar to a principle, more of a guideline, a goal that should be realized as far as possible. For this reason, principles standards are often referred to as optimization requirements. Principles can be fulfilled to different degrees. The degree of fulfillment can vary depending on the actual and legal circumstances. Principle is just not a rule . In contrast to the principle, rules require not only consideration, but strict observance; they are either fulfilled or not fulfilled. Accordingly, in the event of a collision between two rules, the conflict should either be resolved by an exception provision included in one of the rules or by declaring one of the rules concerned to be invalid, for example in accordance with the general rules on the competition of standards. In the case of conflicting principles, on the other hand, one principle - depending on its weight - must take a back seat to the other, without this resulting in the invalidity of the backward principle. Rather, the result found only applies under certain circumstances and may turn out differently under different circumstances. Alternatively, the conditions under which one principle takes precedence over another should also be an element of a rule that expresses the legal consequence of the preceding principle. Robert Alexy in particular advocates the controversial thesis that fundamental rights should be understood as principles, not as rules.

Josef Esser made a distinction between legal clauses and legal principles: A legal clause characterizes "the determinability of the application cases". On the other hand, a legal principle does not contain “any binding directives of a direct nature for a specific area of ​​questions”, but is only a “formula for a number of typically applicable points of view”. In a similar way, Ronald Dworkin distinguished between "rules" and "principles": In his view, legal norms either apply to a case or not, while principles dictate the achievement of a goal as far as possible; if principles conflict with one another, a weighting decides the extent to which they are to be realized. In truth, however, questions of the right measure need to be answered not only when applying legal principles, but also when interpreting legal norms ("rules"). If, for example, the freedom of expression of one person conflicts with the personal rights of another, a court must clearly decide whether or not the personal rights take precedence over freedom of expression. That depends on how far the scope of these legal guarantees extend. In this delimitation of the fundamental rights, their purposes are to be included through teleological interpretation (as is the case with the delimitation of the areas of application of other legal norms). Thus, "by way of teleological interpretation, compromises between general legal principles also find their way into the delimitation of the scope of competing legal norms."


Web links

Wiktionary: Principle  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Hans-Eduard Hengstenberg : Mensch und Materie , 2nd revised. Ed., Dettelbach, 1998, Verlag J. H. Röll, ISBN 3-927522-98-8 , page 49
  2. People's welfare is princely lust - the claim and reality of Prince Heinrich 72. Reuss zu Lobenstein-Ebersdorf (view Google Books), Heinz-Dieter Fiedler, Verlag Books on Demand Norderstedt 2015, ISBN 978-3734780219 , page 24, accessed June 12, 2017
  3. " Principles Rider ", dictionary of origin at , accessed June 12, 2017
  4. a b Josef Esser, Principle and Norm in Judicial Advanced Training in Private Law, Tübingen 1956, p. 50 f.
  5. Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously, 1978, chap. 2.3
  6. Reinhold Zippelius , Das Wesen des Rechts, 6th edition, chapter 8 d