Abstract: 1. A sight, a spectacle. Obs. rare.
1605 L. Andrewes 96 Serm.: Passion (1631) 365 Saint Luke..calleth the Passion θεωραν a Theory or Sight... Of our blessed Saviour's whole life or death, there is no part but is a Theorie of it selfe, well worthie our looking on. 2. Mental view, contemplation. Obs. [1598 J. Florio Worlde of Wordes, Theoria, contemplation, deepe studie, a sight or beholding.]
1611 R. Cotgrave Dict. French & Eng. Tongues, Theorie, theorie, contemplation, deepe studie; a sight, or beholding, speculation.
1643 Sir T. Browne Relig. Medici i. §45 Nor can I thinke I have the true Theory of death when I contemplate a skull, or behold a Skeleton with those vulgar imaginations it casts upon us.
1646 Sir T. Browne Pseudodoxia Epidemica vii. xix. 385 As they encrease the hatred of vice in some, so doe they enlarge the theory of wickednesse in all.
1653 W. Harvey Anat. Exercitations Pref. v, All their theory and contemplation (which they count Science) represents nothing but waking mens dreams, and sick mens phrensies.
1710 J. Norris Treat. Christian Prudence ii. 65 Speculative Knowledge contemplates Truth for itself, and accordingly stops and rests in the Contemplation of it, which is what we commonly call Theory. 3. A conception or mental scheme of something to be done, or of the method of doing it; a systematic statement of rules or principles to be followed. 1597 R. Hooker Of Lawes Eccl. Politie v. xxix. 64 If they had bene themselues to execute their owne theorie in this Church.
1643 Bp. J. Hall Breathings Devout Soul i, It will hardly be believed, how far some of their contemplative men have gone in the theory hereof.
1684 Dryden Prol. Univ. Oxf. in Misc. Poems 268 Your Theories are here to Practice brought, As in Mechanick operations wrought.
1798 T. R. Malthus Ess. Princ. Population x. 181 A theory that will not admit of application cannot possibly be just.
1853 J. Bright in Parl. Deb. 3rd Ser. 127 1174 The theory of the old Government of India was one which could not be defended.
a1859 J. Austin Lect. Jurispr. (1879) II. 1133 Theory of what is and theory of what ought to be are perpetually confounded.
1879 M. Patti