What is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is an approach or philosophy that emphasizes the importance of context. This is in contrast to an approach based on some sort of metaphysical or moral principle, such as utilitarianism. Instead, pragmatism views the real world as a complex interaction of the social and cultural context and the individual’s experience of it. This understanding of the world provides a rich basis for evaluation and criticism of institutions and practices.

Unlike the traditional philosophical traditions of Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant, which have set out a clear and unified list of beliefs and principles, there is no one pragmatist creed. However, there are certain ideas that have loomed large in the pragmatist tradition. This does not mean that they are endorsed by all pragmatists, or even by most pragmatists.

The pragmatic tradition is also characterized by its rejection of the idea that all reality can be captured by any single concept or language, or that any belief or knowledge represents reality. This is in contrast to traditional academic skepticism, which views reality as a fixed collection of facts that can be analyzed and understood with certainty.

This view has had wide ranging implications for philosophical fields, including epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. It has been influenced by the works of Peirce and James, especially in terms of their emphasis on the interplay between observation and action. It is also influenced by the work of John Dewey, and has had particular appeal to those interested in the philosophy of education.

In its earliest form, pragmatism developed as a set of principles and a philosophy of inquiry that could be used to analyze problems and guide human behavior. These principles and concepts arose in the context of discussions at a so-called metaphysical club that held meetings at Harvard beginning in the 1870s. These were conversations involving Peirce, Dewey, and others who were philosophers, psychologists, and scientifically inclined lawyers.

Amongst these issues was the question of how a person comes to know something. For pragmatists, the answer is that knowledge and belief arise in a process of inquiry, the goal of which is to establish what is true or false. Beliefs become true or false in relation to how useful they are in this struggle.

The philosophical ramifications of this perspective are extensive, and the subject of a great deal of literature. The following bibliography provides a good starting point for those interested in learning more about this important school of thought. In addition, the following websites offer a wealth of information on this topic: