Pragmatic is a philosophy that focuses on how we use language in real-world contexts. It is an alternative to other philosophies of language, such as semantics and syntax. Pragmatics studies the interaction between a speaker and the people they are communicating with. It deals with pragmatically determined meaning, whereas semantics and syntax deal with the literal meaning of words.
The philosophical doctrine of pragmatism was developed in the late 19th century in the United States by philosophers Charles Sanders Peirce, psychologist William James, and educational reformer John Dewey. Other academics such as psychologist and sociologist Arthur F. Bentley and anthropologist Chauncey Wright have also contributed to the doctrine.
A person who is pragmatic is concerned more with results and consequences than with what should be or could be. A pragmatic person is more likely to agree with a policy that works for most people than to argue over the perfect moral solution to a problem.
In education, a pragmatic approach is one that emphasizes experiential learning and problem-based learning. It is often used to teach subjects that are difficult to learn through traditional methods, such as advanced mathematics or theoretical physics. Experiential learning and problem-based learning can be difficult to implement in a school system, though, as it may require more time than other instructional approaches.
One problem with a pragmatic approach is that it can sometimes overlook the importance of subjects and ideas that do not have immediate practical applications, such as a subject like music or art. This approach can also overlook the value of subjects that contribute to intellectual growth and cultural enrichment, such as foreign languages or history.
Pragmatism also does not address questions of the final ‘truth’ of research outcomes. This can be problematic when it comes to research, because researchers must be able to trust the quality of their research findings. This can be challenging, especially if a researcher does not have enough experience or expertise to make sure that their conclusions are valid.
A pragmatist researcher will take action to solve a particular problem, but will recognize that he or she does not have the complete information needed to resolve the issue completely. The pragmatist will not try to determine what the absolute correct solution is, but rather will search for ways to make progress in solving the problem using available resources (Biesta 2010). This logical stance can be helpful when addressing complex social problems, such as the implementation of a new healthcare initiative, but it is less useful for attempting to find incontrovertible answers or best practices to a specific question. (Hammond, 2015). A pragmatist will also see knowledge as fallible and that it can be altered through further research or even by the actions of others. (Morgan, 2014a).