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First Principles

Last updated: 3 April 2023

First Principles illustration
Build with the fundamental components

First Principles is a powerful way of thinking and problem-solving practiced by some of the most influential thinkers in history. It involves breaking complex problems into their fundamental components and then building them back up to reach an optimal solution.


First Principles originated from Aristotle’s work in the 4th century BC when he wrote Analytics and Categories. In these works, Aristotle famously asserted that “all human knowledge begins with self-evident truths” and proposed the use of deduction to break complex questions down into simpler ones. This concept has since been adapted and built upon by many other great thinkers throughout history.

How it works

First Principles thinking starts by identifying a goal or an idea and then breaking it down into its simplest components. Thinking in first principles usually involves questioning assumptions and digging deeper into the underlying principles. Once the individual pieces are understood, they can be reassembled to create something new or build upon existing frameworks. This process allows for more innovative solutions to complex problems than conventional problem-solving methods, which often rely on copying existing patterns or trial-and-error.

How to use it

The key to using First Principles successfully is understanding the fundamental principles behind a system or problem rather than relying on pre-existing knowledge or intuition. To do this effectively, start by asking why something is done in a certain way until you get to the root cause of a problem. Then question any assumptions or beliefs about what may be necessary for a solution, as these can often be starting points for new ideas and solutions. Finally, use logic and deduction to assemble all the individual pieces you have identified into an overall framework that satisfies your goal.


Many famous scientists and inventors have used First Principles thinking in their work, such as Elon Musk, who employed this approach when designing his electric cars. He started by questioning the industry standard of gasoline propulsion engines and breaking it down into its most basic components before reassembling them into an electric motor-powered vehicle.

Similarly, Albert Einstein used this technique when developing his Theory of Relativity by first analyzing what was known about gravity at a fundamental level before proposing a revolutionary new theory based on his findings.


  • First Principles involves breaking complex problems into their fundamental components before reassembling them in new ways.
  • Using this approach requires understanding the underlying principles behind a system or problem.
  • Question assumptions and beliefs about what is necessary for a solution
  • Use logic and deduction to put together all the individual pieces identified


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