What Is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is a philosophical term that refers to a certain way of thinking and behaving. People who are pragmatic tend to be sensible and down-to-earth, able to put things in perspective and correct others for being flighty or inefficient. Pragmatic also refers to a particular mindset or philosophy that allows for experimentation and feedback.

Pragmatism is a philosophy of action that seeks to find the most useful and efficient ways of accomplishing tasks and solving problems. This approach to thinking and behaving is often associated with American business practices, which value results over all else. It is also a school of thought in which philosophers believe that everything should be weighed and measured against the most practical outcome, and that all beliefs, values and theories should be compared to their effectiveness in producing real-life outcomes.

There is no pragmatist creed that is endorsed by all pragmatists, but certain ideas have loomed large in the pragmatist tradition. For example, pragmatists such as Sellars, Rorty, Davidson and Putnam have rejected the idea that there are uninterpreted, “raw” sensory experiences. Instead, they argue that our epistemic access to reality is necessarily mediated by concepts and descriptions. This view is sometimes known as “pragmatist naturalism.”

A second essential pragmatism belief is that our understanding of the world is constantly evolving and improving. Experience is the primary source of knowledge, but this does not mean that it is an unproblematic or objective one. As the pragmatist John Stuart Mill once wrote, “experience is no judge of truth.” It is always subject to interpretation and biased by the expectations and assumptions we bring into the situation.

Moreover, pragmatists reject the idea that there are any fixed or definitive meanings for words and concepts. Rather, meaning is inherently ambiguous and continually being negotiated and influenced by social context and other factors. This is the principle of “pragmatic relativism.”

The third and most dangerous flaw in pragmatism involves ethics and morality. Most pragmatists immediately recognize that pragmatism completely implodes when it is applied to issues of ethics and morality. In these cases, the term becomes nothing more than relativism with a less-polished appearance.