[fawr-muh-liz-uh m]
See more synonyms for formalism on
  1. strict adherence to, or observance of, prescribed or traditional forms, as in music, poetry, and art.
  2. Religion. strong attachment to external forms and observances.
  3. Ethics. a doctrine that acts are in themselves right or wrong regardless of consequences.
  4. Logic, Mathematics. a doctrine, which evolved from a proposal of David Hilbert, that mathematics, including the logic used in proofs, can be based on the formal manipulation of symbols without regard to their meaning.

Origin of formalism

First recorded in 1830–40; formal1 + -ism
Related formsfor·mal·ist, noun, adjectivefor·mal·is·tic, adjectivefor·mal·is·ti·cal·ly, adverban·ti·for·mal·ist, noun, adjectivenon·for·mal·ism, nounnon·for·mal·is·tic, adjectiveun·for·mal·is·tic, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for formalism

Contemporary Examples of formalism

Historical Examples of formalism

  • Little shades of formalism had crept here and there into her manner, even toward me.

    In the Valley

    Harold Frederic

  • There is in them an irreconcilable mixture of fury and formalism.

  • His sense of formalism had been sloughed off, his agreed-upon reactions bypassed.


    Robert Sheckley

  • Deceit, flattery, formalism in prayer are abominable to God.

    Broken Bread

    Thomas Champness

  • He could never get over the idea that formalism was the soul of function.

    The Music Master

    Charles Klein

British Dictionary definitions for formalism


  1. scrupulous or excessive adherence to outward form at the expense of inner reality or content
    1. the mathematical or logical structure of a scientific argument as distinguished from its subject matter
    2. the notation, and its structure, in which information is expressed
  2. theatre a stylized mode of production
  3. (in Marxist criticism) excessive concern with artistic technique at the expense of social values, etc
  4. the philosophical theory that a mathematical statement has no meaning but that its symbols, regarded as physical objects, exhibit a structure that has useful applicationsCompare logicism, intuitionism
Derived Formsformalist, nounformalistic, adjectiveformalistically, adverb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for formalism

1840, "strict adherence to prescribed forms," from formal + -ism. Attested from 1943 in reference to the Russian literary movement (1916-30). Related: Formalist; formalistic.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper