Pragmatic is a philosophical movement that focuses on the use of language and thought in prediction, problem solving, and action. Its proponents claim that most philosophical issues, such as the nature of knowledge, language, concepts, and meaning, are best viewed in terms of their practical uses and successes, rather than as attempts to describe, mirror, or capture some transcendent reality.
The pragmatist view of truth and reality differs from that of the classical idealists and empiricists. The former hold that ideas, including concepts, are merely representations or copies of impressions or external objects. They are not true or false in themselves, but are rather “true” or “false” depending on how they contribute to the direction of behavior.
The latter, on the other hand, hold that the world is a complex web of causal relationships that must be considered in any attempt to determine what is true or false. They also believe that ideas are only valid insofar as they are useful and help to guide behavior. In this way, ideas are akin to tools that are efficient, valuable, or worthwhile depending on how they function.
Among the first self-consciously pragmatic philosophers were Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), a logician, mathematician, and scientist; and William James (1842-1910), a psychologist, moralist, and physician with an M.D.
In their early writings, pragmatists argued that, unlike a copy of an external object, a true idea must be capable of supporting a course of action. They also distinguished between ideas that have an immediate effect on behaviour and those that may be effective in the future. Thus, for example, a belief might be regarded as “true” only insofar as it helps to sustain intelligent organisms in their struggle with the environment.
One of the most important differences between pragmatism and other philosophical traditions is its understanding of the connection between thought and action. It is because of this emphasis that many applied fields like public administration, political science, leadership studies, international relations, and conflict resolution have incorporated pragmatism into their philosophies.
Pragmatic people are often willing to compromise, recognizing that they don’t always have control over what happens and that, sometimes, you just have to take things as they come. They are more practical and results oriented than idealistic dreamers, but they understand that to achieve something you need to be willing to give up something else.
Pragmatic people are also more likely to recognize that the way they behave and the choices they make affect other people’s lives, so they need to be aware of how their actions might influence others. They’re willing to sacrifice their own desires and goals in order to get what they really want, even if this means not getting everything they want. Pragmatists are often frustrated by idealistic hopes that don’t bear fruit, but they’re not discouraged because they know that achieving their goals requires compromise. They are able to see that, in the grand scheme of things, the small sacrifices they make today will ultimately benefit them.