What is Pragmatics?

Pragmatics is a branch of philosophy that studies the ‘how’ of communication. It deals with verbal acts in concrete situations, and tries to answer the question of how words and sentences relate to each other. Some of its branches include the theory of conversational implicature, the study of presupposition and ambiguity, and the study of language idioms and etymology.

One of the most common definitions of pragmatics is that it is the study of language, notably its uses and context. The discipline is a combination of linguistic and logical analysis, focusing on the interplay between users and language, and the resulting practical implications. Unlike other disciplines such as logic or formal mathematics, which deal with abstract, static entities, the study of pragmatics deals with real-world situations. Specifically, it is concerned with the relationship between a speaker and his or her listener.

In particular, the most useful pragmatics concept is the concept of context. This term is omnipresent in pragmatics. A lot of concepts can be included under the rubric of context, including illocutionary act, sentence context pairing, and utterance meaning. There are two main types of context: static and dynamic.

For example, a physics model may be able to explain how war works, but it might be a bad model to explain how a tiny particle behaves in a large cosmic system. Similarly, a pragmatist is likely to appreciate the benefits of a good plan executed now, rather than a perfect plan executed next week. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone will want to implement a pragmatic approach to their language.

Another notable aspect of the pragmatics field is the concept of amplifying. Amplifying is a form of inference, akin to Bayesian reasoning. Although a very simple concept, amplifying can take many forms, including induction. Other approaches to amplifying have been proposed, including the application of general principles to communication, and the use of context-sensitive values to uttered words.

Besides the usual suspects like semantics and grammar, the plethora of other areas of study has expanded to include social science, history, psychology, and political science. Examples of these include pragmatics, ambiguity theory, and indexicality. All of these fields have their share of problems, however, and the best ways of dealing with them are not necessarily clear cut.

Moreover, the plethora of concepts can make it difficult to know which are the most important ones to study. In particular, it is difficult to know whether the most useful concept is actually the most important one.

Despite the challenges associated with pragmatics, the field is a worthwhile pursuit. By looking at the pragmatics of a variety of disciplines, and the pragmatics of a variety of linguistic forms, it is possible to learn a great deal about how language operates. Indeed, pragmatism is the study of a realistic, practical approach to knowledge, which includes the ability to recognize and adopt the latest ideas as they emerge. When old ideas begin to fall by the wayside, it is time to drop them and move on.