What is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is the practice or skill of dealing with situations in a practical and realistic way. Pragmatic people often focus on the outcomes of their decisions and take reasonable measures to achieve a goal or solve a problem. They are more likely to draw lessons from past experiences and prefer more explanatory models than dogma or ideology.

Pragmatism is a philosophical movement that developed in the early 1870s. It was the brainchild of a group of Harvard-educated men, dubbed “The Metaphysical Club,” that met for informal philosophical discussions in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The group’s members included proto-positivist Chauncey Wright (1830-1875), Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935) and two then-fledgling philosophers who went on to become the first self-conscious pragmatists, Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) and William James (1842-1910).

In general, pragmatists have been critical of a foundational picture of truth that was popular in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of language in their day. They believed that experience cannot serve as a raw and unsullied source of justification, and therefore we cannot verify theories or worldviews by comparing them with some unrestricted, pure, and natural “given” of experience. They were also skeptical of attempts to ground knowledge on the basis of observation or sensation. Instead, they believed that our knowledge is based on a complex interplay of a series of practical considerations and practical results.

One of the most significant developments of pragmatism is pragmatics, a field of inquiry that studies how meaning is conveyed through speech acts and other linguistic phenomena. In particular, the study of pragmatics has focused on the nature of the things that speakers mean when they utter words and what specific circumstances are involved in their utterances. The study of pragmatics is sometimes compared to other specialized areas such as linguistic semantics (the meaning of sentences), syntax (word order) and semiotics (the study of signs).

Many different kinds of pragmatic theories have been developed. A few of the most prominent ones are near-side pragmatics, far-side pragmatics and relevance theory. Near-side pragmatics focuses on what speakers intend to communicate when they speak, the context in which they are speaking and their intentions and goals. Far-side pragmatics, on the other hand, deals with what happens beyond saying something: how a speaker’s utterance generates certain effects in the listener, such as illocutionary forces and speech act commitments.

Relevance theory, which was developed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson, is a major framework in near-side pragmatics. It states that a speaker’s every utterance carries enough relevant information to be worth the listener’s effort to process it.

Another framework in near-side pragmatics is Grice’s theory of conversational implicature, which states that a speaker’s utterances typically contain explicit as well as implicit clues to their intended logical consequence for the addressee. Finally, the newest development in pragmatics is formal pragmatics, which attempts to link classical semantics (treating propositional content as true or false) and intuitionistic semantics (dealing with illocutionary force). This kind of pragmatics has been compared to the theory of computation.