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strict adherence to, or observance of, prescribed or traditional forms, as in music, poetry, and art.
Religion. strong attachment to external forms and observances.
Ethics. a doctrine that acts are in themselves right or wrong regardless of consequences.
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 manipulation of symbols without regard to their meaning.
Contemporary Examples

The concept is that the formalism of past summits has made meaningful conversation difficult.
At the U.S.-China Summit, Friendship Isn’t What Matters Gordon G. Chang June 6, 2013

He was accused of “formalism,” a catch-all accusation that, like “Trotskyite,” had the ring of execution about it.
When Stalin Met Lady Macbeth Brian Moynahan November 8, 2014

Historical Examples

No one should be a slave to such a formalism, but should follow the plan when convenient.
The Teaching of Geometry David Eugene Smith

He could never get over the idea that formalism was the soul of function.
The Music Master Charles Klein

They called it ‘a tossing of tennis balls,’ and set it down as one of the points of formalism.
The English Church in the Eighteenth Century Charles J. Abbey and John H. Overton

The outstanding feature of Kiyomitsu’s work is its formalism.
Chats on Japanese Prints Arthur Davison Ficke

It is safe to say that formalism is no longer a characteristic feature of the typical American school.
Craftsmanship in Teaching William Chandler Bagley

It was the coldest piece of formalism it has been our lot to witness in an English church.
The Church Index William Pepperell

But they were free from pedantry, from formalism, they left the dying art of the ancient world and made their own way.
Progress and History Various

There was a formalism to it, there was pomp and circumstance.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Irvin S. (Irvin Shrewsbury) Cobb

scrupulous or excessive adherence to outward form at the expense of inner reality or content

the mathematical or logical structure of a scientific argument as distinguished from its subject matter
the notation, and its structure, in which information is expressed

(theatre) a stylized mode of production
(in Marxist criticism) excessive concern with artistic technique at the expense of social values, etc
the philosophical theory that a mathematical statement has no meaning but that its symbols, regarded as physical objects, exhibit a structure that has useful applications Compare logicism, intuitionism

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


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