Pragmatic is the study of what people actually mean when they use language, not just their literal meanings. It is also a way to consider the context of an utterance, the intentions, and what is achieved by a particular communication.
The word pragmatic is from the Greek pragmatikos, or “practical,” and comes from the root prassein, meaning “to do.” The term was first used in the 1580s and was later adopted into English around 1810.
A pragmatic view of the world views things as they are in practice rather than what they should be in theory. Pragmatism is often considered to be a third alternative to both analytic philosophy and continental philosophy, with its own recognizable philosophic tradition. It is a philosophical approach that can be found in many different fields, including philosophy of mind, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and the social sciences.
There are a number of problems with the pragmatic doctrine. One is that it can result in a kind of relativism. For example, if an idea works in practice, it is often thought that it must be true. For instance, telling a child there are invisible gremlins living in the electrical outlets and that they will bite them if they touch them certainly works to keep them from touching them. But it is not necessarily true, and this demonstrates how relativism can be dangerous.
Another problem with the pragmatic doctrine is that it can be exploited by moralists to justify bad behavior. For example, slavery certainly worked for some in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but this does not prove that it is right. The truth is, the moral justification of a practice must always be examined on its own terms.
Nevertheless, the pragmatic doctrine is still widely embraced by many philosophers and has given rise to a rich philosophical literature. It is particularly important in the field of linguistic pragmatics, which studies how language is used by speakers and the implications of their communication.
It is also the basis for computational pragmatics, which is a subfield of artificial intelligence that aims to develop computer systems that can more accurately interpret human intentions. Reference resolution, the process of determining which meaning to apply to a particular piece of data, is an important task in computational pragmatics.
Pragmatics is a central part of the philosophy of language, and its importance in our everyday lives makes it a subject worth exploring. The definition of pragmatics has changed over time, reflecting new understandings and challenges, but its general framework is well-established. It is often viewed as being distinct from Theory of Mind (ToM) but the precise nature of that relationship is still unclear and requires further research. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to say that pragmatics sits on the near side of the pragmatic boundary with semantics on the far side. We can also think of it as a stepping stone between philosophy and linguistics.