A pragmatic person focuses on realistic options and courses of action. This is the opposite of idealistic people, who tend to focus on their ideals. The word comes from the Greek pragma, meaning “deed,” and has historically described people who are practical and grounded. The four-year-old who wants a unicorn for her birthday isn’t being very pragmatic, but the same could be said of the philosopher who wants to see his ideas put to use in the real world.
The field of pragmatics attempts to answer questions about the relationship between what speakers say, their meaning, the particular circumstances of their utterance, and how they manage to communicate. This includes things like social norms (such as respecting personal space and speaking at an average volume) and language functions (such as demonstratives, indexicals, and anaphors).
Pragmatism is a philosophical movement that originated in the United States around 1870. It posed a third alternative to the dominant analytic and continental philosophy traditions, and it has since developed into a broad and influential school of thought. Its early advocates included the so-called classical pragmatists Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. The more recent neopragmatists include Quine, Wittgenstein, Nelson Goodman, and Wilfrid Sellars.
Traditionally, pragmatism has been opposed by analytic philosophers who have viewed it as a rival to the logical positivist and phenomenological schools of thought. However, this position is based on a misreading of the pragmatists’ ideas. They were not advocating a new’methodology’ for empirical research, but they did think that human experience is more valuable than philosophical concepts such as truth and reality.
In addition, pragmatists were keenly aware of the problems associated with a strictly logical approach to reality and sought a more holistic way of examining human experience. The pragmatists believed that human experience is a dialectic process, with knowledge and belief interpreting experience and action, and that reflection on experience provides new ways of knowing and acting.
For these reasons, pragmatism has been called a middle of the road philosophy that provides an important complement to analytic philosophy. It has been suggested that a more thorough integration of analytic and pragmatist philosophy would address some of the most important issues in contemporary philosophical discussion.
One example of this is Brandom’s attempt to bring together analytic and pragmatist views by showing that semantic meaning has a predictive component, and he has also argued that there is a close relationship between the way an utterance sounds and what it reveals about speakers and the specific context in which the utterance was made. This is a crucial point, but it has largely gone unnoticed because analytic philosophers have tended to focus on linguistic meaning alone. This has been criticized by some neopragmatists such as Koopman, who has argued that this ignores the importance of pragmatics in the philosophy of language.