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Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
▪ The method consists in extrapolating from concrete relations those properties which can be directly subsumed under these higher order abstractions.
▪ She was one of Britain's best-loved painters, whose art moved over six decades from semi-cubism towards pure abstraction.
▪ Here is a place of pure abstraction and perfection, free of earthly contamination.
▪ Until now, our generation only knew war as an abstraction.
▪ Among other things, they remind you that abstraction had its roots in spirituality.
▪ And yet, we still describe symbols as intellectual abstractions.
▪ Comprehension of algebra requires formal operations as its content is basically abstractions of abstractions.
▪ It was then but an intellectual elision to view abstraction as the purest of all styles, since it depicted nothing at all.
▪ Loyalty to the person of the monarch gave way to allegiance to the abstraction of the state.
▪ Nowadays, of course, we understand that it was this way of talking about ethical abstractions that made them seem so mysterious.
▪ Successive abstractions: these define the situation in terms of higher and lower levels of abstraction.
▪ Such figures are too vast an abstraction.
The Collaborative International Dictionary

Abstraction \Ab*strac"tion\, n. [Cf. F. abstraction. See Abstract, a.]

  1. The act of abstracting, separating, or withdrawing, or the state of being withdrawn; withdrawal.

    A wrongful abstraction of wealth from certain members of the community.
    --J. S. Mill.

  2. (Metaph.) The act process of leaving out of consideration one or more properties of a complex object so as to attend to others; analysis. Thus, when the mind considers the form of a tree by itself, or the color of the leaves as separate from their size or figure, the act is called abstraction. So, also, when it considers whiteness, softness, virtue, existence, as separate from any particular objects.

    Note: Abstraction is necessary to classification, by which things are arranged in genera and species. We separate in idea the qualities of certain objects, which are of the same kind, from others which are different, in each, and arrange the objects having the same properties in a class, or collected body.

    Abstraction is no positive act: it is simply the negative of attention.
    --Sir W. Hamilton.

  3. An idea or notion of an abstract, or theoretical nature; as, to fight for mere abstractions.

  4. A separation from worldly objects; a recluse life; as, a hermit's abstraction.

  5. Absence or absorption of mind; inattention to present objects.

  6. The taking surreptitiously for one's own use part of the property of another; purloining. [Modern]

  7. (Chem.) A separation of volatile parts by the act of distillation.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

c.1400, "a withdrawal from worldly affairs, asceticism," from Old French abstraction (14c.), from Latin abstractionem (nominative abstractio), noun of action from past participle stem of abstrahere "drag away, pull away, divert" (see abstract (adj.)). Meaning "idea of something that has no actual existence" is from 1640s.


n. 1 The act of abstracting, separating, withdrawing, or taking away; withdrawal; the state of being taken away. (First attested around 1350 to 1470.)(R:SOED5: page=10) 2 # (context euphemistic English) The taking surreptitiously for one's own use part of the property of another; purloining. (First attested around 1350 to 1470.) 3 # (context engineering English) Removal of water from a river, lake, or aquifer. 4 A separation from worldly objects; a recluse life, as ''a hermit '''abstraction'''''; the withdrawal from one's senses. (First attested around 1350 to 1470.) 5 The act of focusing on one characteristic of an object rather than the object as a whole group of characteristics; the act of separating said qualities from the object or ideas. (First attested in the late 16th century.) 6 The act of comparing commonality between distinct objects and organizing using those similarities; the act of generalizing characteristics; the product of said generalization. (First attested in the late 16th century.) 7 An idea or notion of an abstract or theoretical nature. (First attested in the late 16th century.) 8 Absence or absorption of mind; inattention to present objects; preoccupation. (First attested in the late 18th century.) 9 (context art English) An abstract creation, or piece of art; qualities of artwork that are free from representational aspects. (First attested in the early 20th century.)(R:CDOE: page=5) 10 (context chemistry English) A separation of volatile parts by the act of distillation. 11 An idea of an unrealistic or visionary nature. 12 The result of mentally abstracting an idea; the results of said process. 13 (context geology English) The merging of two river valleys by the larger of the two deepening and widening so much so, as to assimilate the smaller. 14 (context computing English) Any generalization technique that ignores or hides details to capture some kind of commonality between different instances for the purpose of controlling the intellectual complexity of engineered systems, particularly software systems. 15 (context computing English) Any intellectual construct produced through the technique of abstraction.

  1. n. a concept or idea not associated with any specific instance; "he loved her only in the abstract--not in person" [syn: abstract]

  2. the act of withdrawing or removing something

  3. the process of formulating general concepts by abstracting common properties of instances [syn: generalization, generalisation]

  4. an abstract painting

  5. preoccupation with something to the exclusion of all else [syn: abstractedness]

  6. a general concept formed by extracting common features from specific examples


Abstraction in its main sense is a conceptual process by which general rules and concepts are derived from the usage and classification of specific examples, literal ("real" or " concrete") signifiers, first principles, or other methods. "An abstraction" is the product of this process — a concept that acts as a super-categorical noun for all subordinate concepts, and connects any related concepts as a group, field, or category.

Conceptual abstractions may be formed by filtering the information content of a concept or an observable phenomenon, selecting only the aspects which are relevant for a particular purpose. For example, abstracting a leather soccer ball to the more general idea of a ball selects only the information on general ball attributes and behavior, eliminating the other characteristics of that particular ball. In a type–token distinction, a type (e.g., a 'ball') is more abstract than its tokens (e.g., 'that leather soccer ball').

Abstraction in its secondary use is a material process, discussed in the themes below.

Abstraction (software engineering)

In software engineering and computer science, abstraction is a technique for managing complexity of computer systems. It works by establishing a level of complexity on which a person interacts with the system, suppressing the more complex details below the current level. The programmer works with an idealized interface (usually well defined) and can add additional levels of functionality that would otherwise be too complex to handle. For example, a programmer writing code that involves numerical operations may not be interested in the way numbers are represented in the underlying hardware (e.g. whether they're 16 bit or 32 bit integers), and where those details have been suppressed it can be said that they were abstracted away, leaving simply numbers with which the programmer can work. In addition, a task of sending an email message across continents would be extremely complex if you start with a piece of optic cable and basic hardware components. By using layers of complexity that have been created to abstract away the physical cables, network layout and presenting the programmer with a virtual data channel, this task is manageable.

Abstraction can apply to control or to data: Control abstraction is the abstraction of actions while data abstraction is that of data structures.

  • Control abstraction involves the use of subprograms and related concepts control flows
  • Data abstraction allows handling data bits in meaningful ways. For example, it is the basic motivation behind datatype.

One can view the notion of an object as a way to combine abstractions of data and code.

The same abstract definition can be used as a common interface for a family of objects with different implementations and behaviors but which share the same meaning. The inheritance mechanism in object-oriented programming can be used to define an abstract class as the common interface.

The recommendation that programmers use abstractions whenever suitable in order to avoid duplication (usually of code) is known as the abstraction principle. The requirement that a programming language provide suitable abstractions is also called the abstraction principle.

Abstraction (mathematics)

Abstraction in mathematics is the process of extracting the underlying essence of a mathematical concept, removing any dependence on real world objects with which it might originally have been connected, and generalizing it so that it has wider applications or matching among other abstract descriptions of equivalent phenomena. Two of the most highly abstract areas of modern mathematics are category theory and model theory.

Abstraction (sociology)

Sociological Abstraction refers to the varying levels at which theoretical concepts can be understood. This idea is very similar to the philosophical understanding of abstraction. There are two basic levels of sociological abstraction: sociological concepts and operationalized sociological concepts.

A sociological concept is a mental construct that represents some part of the world in a simplified form. An example of a mental construct is the idea of class, or the distinguishing of two groups based on their income, culture, power, or some other defining characteristic(s). Concepts can remain abstract or can be operationalized. Operationalizing a sociological concept takes it to the concrete level by defining how one is going to measure it. Thus, with the concept of class one could operationalize it by actually measuring people's income. Once operationalized, you have a concrete representation of a sociological concept.

In addition to the basic levels of sociological abstraction, sociological concepts are often understood at multiple levels as a result of sociological theorizing. Sociological theories postulate relationships between sociological concepts. It is generally understood that there are three levels of sociological theorizing:

The most abstract level of sociological theory is often referred to as Grand Theory. Grand Theory attempts to explain the inter-relationships among numerous concepts and intends to be independent of time and space. In other words, it intends to be universally applicable. An example would be Talcott Parsons' Action Systems Theory, which attempted to explain the workings of society at a very abstract level. Another example would be Marx's Historical Materialism, which argued economic relations were the foundation of social structure.

Middle-range theories are also explanations of human behavior that go beyond one particular observation but are limited in scope and do not attempt to explain all of society. A classic example (with Grand Theory implications) would be Durkheim's research on suicide. He proposed a relationship between the breakdown of social bonds found in religions (Protestantism vs. Catholicism) as the reason for higher rates of suicide in specific areas.

Micro-level theories are limited to explanations of specific observations and are not intended to be universal. For instance, current work on religious activity in the U.S. seems to indicate that religious pluralism and marketforces have played a role in reducing the apparent amount of secularization (defined here as 'decreased levels of religiosity'). As the U.S. is one of few examples of a modernized country where levels of religiosity have remained relatively high over time (perhaps the only example), the theory seems applicable only to the U.S. and only during a specified time period.

Abstraction (disambiguation)

Abstraction is a process or result of generalization, removal of properties, or distancing of ideas from objects. Abstraction may also refer to:

  • Abstraction (art), art unconcerned with the literal depiction of things from the visible world
  • Abstraction (computer science), a process of hiding details of implementation in programs and data
    • Abstraction layer, an application of abstraction in computing
    • Hardware abstraction, an abstraction layer on top of hardware
  • Abstraction (linguistics), use of terms for concepts removed from the objects to which they were originally attached
  • Abstraction (mathematics), a process of removing the dependence of a mathematical concept on real-world objects
    • Hypostatic abstraction, a formal operation that transforms a predicate into a relation
    • Lambda abstraction, a definition of an anonymous function that produces a valid term in lambda calculus
  • Abstraction (sociology), a process of considering sociological concepts at a more theoretical level
  • Nucleophilic abstraction, a nucleophilic attack which causes part or all of a ligand to be removed from a metal
  • Water abstraction, the process of taking water from any source
Abstraction (linguistics)

The term abstraction has a number of uses in the field of linguistics. It can denote a process (also called object abstraction) in the development of language, whereby terms become used for concepts further removed from the objects to which they were originally attached. It can also denote a process applied by linguists themselves, whereby phenomena are considered without the details that are not relevant to the desired level of analysis.

Abstraction (art)

Typically, abstraction is used in the arts as a synonym for abstract art in general.

Usage examples of "abstraction".

Burnside wallowed before an abstraction, and Burnside is not Houdini when it comes to abstractions.

They were influenced by Constructivism and the Bauhaus, and promoted Expressionism and abstraction.

To this epoch of ardent abstractions and impassioned logomachies belongs the philosophical reign of Julian, an illuminatus and Initiate of the first order, who believed in the unity of God and the universal Dogma of the Trinity, and regretted the loss of nothing of the old world but its magnificent symbols and too graceful images.

Out of these questions emerge the concerns of innumerable feminists that postmodernism and deconstruction may very well theorize to an abstraction the lived experience of women or divert attention away from mistreatment in the rush to revel in the more playful eccentricities of theory and ambiguity.

In defiance of monition and in spite of resolution, the primrose path is trodden by all sorts and conditions of men, sinners no doubt, but not necessarily abstractions of sin, and to assert the contrary makes for cant and not for righteousness.

And incorporated into the Overstructure were abstractions of microscopic cellular structure created by the Arthropods, who are believers in maximizing harmony with nature.

The computer obliged with a color-coded abstraction that showed the sequencing of base pairs on the offending palindrome as a series of little plugs and sockets.

Evil personified by error continued by the worship of abstractions, 694-u.

The higher the level of abstraction, the more human and Quintan semantics diverged.

You have learned to concentrate deeply, to think subtly, to have affection for abstractions, to live at a distance from quotidian things.

I might mention that urbane folk make up the membership of the Redemptionist Alliance, the Vitatis Cult, the Cosmic Peace Movement, Panortheism, a dozen more: all motivated by abstractions four or five or six times removed from reality.

We feel that you of the Mull have been stampeded into reckless decisions by the zealous and articulate group known as the Redemptionists, who deal in abstractions and not in facts.

The advocates of the theory, to have made their abstraction complete, should have presented their primitive man as below the lowest known savage, unprogressive, and in himself incapable of developing any progressive energy.

In an age when many critically acclaimed modern artists celebrated an aesthetics of abstraction or ugliness, Disney offered pleasing pictures in perspective.

But the fact that IT eludes every description must not, as happens so often, be mistaken for the description of IT as the airiest of abstractions, as a literal transparent continuum or undifferentiated cosmic jello.