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1. Maths
a. the result of the subtraction of one number, quantity, etc., from another
b. the single number that when added to the subtrahend gives the minuend; remainder
2. Logic another name for differentia
3. Maths of two sets
a. the set of members of the first that are not members of the second.
b. symmetric difference the set of members of one but not both of the given sets.
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


contrast, unlikeness. Three interrelated but distinct usages of the term are important:
  1. (within SAUSSURE's linguistic theory) the presupposed (or ‘absent’) contrast(s) in any signification, necessary because meaning is never present in individual signifiers but gained (and never fully or finally) by contrast with other signifiers;
  2. (for DERRIDA) an emphasis above all, on the open-endedness of différence and djfférance, as undermining ‘several kingdoms’, including the ‘metaphysics of presence’ and the ‘logocentrism’ of traditional philosophy (as well as some of Saussure's interpretations of his own linguistics). See also DECONSTRUCTION.
  3. (more general use of the term) cultural differences of any kind.


Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a comparative description of objects, based on the fact that properties present in some objects are lacking in others. In materialist dialectics, “difference” is understood as a necessary moment in every thing, phenomenon, and process, characterizing its inner contradictoriness and development.

The category of difference is inseparable from the category of identity. The closest connection and mutual interpenetration of difference and identity occurs in the course of the reflection of the movement and development of objects, when difference exists within identity, and identity within difference. The objective basis for the unity of difference and identity is the unity between the stability and the changeability of things. In this unity, stability is manifested as the identity of the changing object with itself, and changeability, as a violation of this identity, or as difference within identity.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The result of subtracting one number from another.
The difference between two sets A and B is the set consisting of all elements of A which do not belong to B; denoted A-B.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.