[Etymonline for 'thesis (n.)':] late 14c., "unaccented syllable or note," from Latin thesis "unaccented syllable in poetry," later (and more correctly) "stressed part of a metrical foot," from Greek thesis "a proposition," also "downbeat" (in music), originally "a setting down, a placing, an arranging; position, situation," from root of tithenai "to place, put, set," from PIE root * dhe- "to set, to put" (see factitious).

Please help me dig deeper than the etymology. I heed the Etymological Fallacy, but what are some right ways of interpreting the etymology, to make it feel reasonable and intuitive?

How does "to set, to put" evolve to mean the modern definition of 'thesis' ?

Update: This website answers my question, but I do not post it as an answer hereunder as others may still find something new with which to contribute.

  • I'd consider THAT WEBSITE added in the edit as completely unreliable. Claims like "[...]that a primitive language, Proto-Indo-European ("PIE"), with barely a hundred roots (or morphemes), [...]" completely disqualify it. – jk - Reinstate Monica Mar 10 '16 at 8:43
  • @jknappen I am delighted then that notwithstanding the downvotes, I linked to that website; otherwise, you would not be able to educate me with your helpful comment. – NNOX Apps Mar 10 '16 at 20:40

thesis is Ancient Greek for "setting (down), placing", and @user438 is completely correct that the connection is that someone "sets down" arguments and propositions. Other related indirect senses mentioned in the LSJ dictionary include "instituting games", "setting forth" in legal form, monetary deposits, a "general question" (as opposed to the hypothesis, lit. "under-placing", the "special case"), a "downbeat" in music, and a stop in punctuation.

The earliest attestation of the philosophical sense given in LSJ, "thesis, position, assumed and requiring proof" is in Plato's Republic, 335a:


Notice how thesis "placing" is led up to in this excerpt by repeated use of the related verb tithēmi "to put; (mediopassive) to take up a position"—both in the same sense of "taking up an intellectual position":

καὶ μάλα, ἔφη, οὕτω συμβαίνει. ἀλλὰ μεταθώμεθα: κινδυνεύομεν γὰρ οὐκ ὀρθῶς τὸν φίλον καὶ ἐχθρὸν θέσθαι. “Most certainly,” he said, “it does work out so. But let us change our ground ["change position"]; for it looks as if we were wrong in the notion we took up about ["in positioning"] the friend and the enemy.”

πῶς θέμενοι, ὦ Πολέμαρχε; “What notion ["how did we position"], Polemarchus?”

τὸν δοκοῦντα χρηστόν, τοῦτον φίλον εἶναι. “That the man who seems to us good is the friend.”

νῦν δὲ πῶς, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, μεταθώμεθα; “And to what shall we change it now ["change position"]?” said I.

τὸν δοκοῦντά τε, ἦ δ᾽ ὅς, καὶ τὸν ὄντα χρηστὸν φίλον: καὶ περὶ τοῦ ἐχθροῦ δὲ ἡ αὐτὴ θέσις. “That the man who both seems and is good is the friend, but that he who seems but is not really so seems but is not really the friend. And there will be the same assumption ["position, thesis"] about the enemy.”


Because you "set down" your arguments and propositions.

  • Would you please explain some more? – NNOX Apps Aug 6 '15 at 14:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.