Pragmatics is a large and diverse philosophical tradition that offers an alternative to the mainstream analytic and continental traditions. It is a theory of language and communication which has attracted a wide range of different interpretations from both inside and outside the philosophy of language field. Some of the main approaches to pragmatics can be classified as follows:

Classical Pragmatics

The term ‘pragmatic’ was originally used by Charles Sanders Peirce and William James to refer to their shared view that knowledge of the world is inseparable from action within it. Their approach to knowledge as a dynamic process, that can only be understood in the light of its practical application, is an essential feature of pragmatism.

More recently, pragmatism has become associated with the development of science and the idea that it is possible to make objective empirical decisions about reality. The pragmatist view of scientific method, with its emphasis on the role of operational decisions in finding out what works, has been a strong influence on the way in which many research projects are designed and conducted.

Some philosophers and linguists have distinguished between two broad classes of pragmatic phenomena: those that are determined by grammar, or more precisely by grammatical rules, and those that are not. This distinction has proved fruitful, and the various types of pragmatics that have been derived from it can be divided into several broad groups.

Grammar-based pragmatics (or, more generally, linguistic pragmatics) is the most broadly defined of these and includes any theory of the relationship between an utterance and its context that can be expressed in a grammatical form. It is thus a class that contains not only the traditional notion of contextualism, but also other, more recent views, such as those of minimalists and hidden indexicalists.

A second general type of pragmatics is a theory of utterance content determined by extra-linguistic information that may be available. This is the kind of pragmatics that underpins much of what has come to be known as inter-cultural or inter-sociocultural pragmatics, and some of the theories of meaning-bearing utterances such as those developed by Sapir and Chomsky.

The third and most general category of pragmatics are those that deal with human cognition and the ways in which people interpret the world around them. This includes such theories as the social-cognitive model of linguistic understanding and the embodied cognitive approach to semantics. It also encompasses more experimental and empirical approaches such as sociocultural and historical pragmatics, where the focus is on the study of utterance interpretation in particular socio-historical and cultural contexts. All of these theories share the basic assumption that the real world is a complex and interactive web of interrelated factors, and that what is said in a language is only a small part of that web.