What is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is an approach to a variety of issues, including the meaning and use of language. Unlike other philosophical approaches such as postpositivism, which supports empirical evidence and hypothesis testing and constructivism, which advocates that knowledge is relative, pragmatism seeks to establish a middle ground between these two extremes in terms of research methodologies (Goles and Hirschheim 2000). A central feature of pragmatism is its emphasis on social context and the importance of examining societal realities when designing and conducting research.

Pragmatism also places an emphasis on the need to continually reassess and reconsider research objectives, methods, and results in light of changing circumstances. It requires a continuous process of reflection on the nature of a problem, how it can be solved, and what the likely consequences of various research choices are (Morgan 2007). This kind of inquiry is consistent with the concept of paradigms popularized by Thomas Kuhn as a set of beliefs that influence the way researchers design their projects, select their methodologies, and evaluate the results of those methods.

The pragmatist approach to learning is based on an individual’s experiences and the way they interpret those experiences. As a result, individuals’ perceptions of the world are influenced by their individual and social experiences and, consequently, are pragmatic.

As a philosophy, pragmatism is primarily American in origin and has been influential to philosophers, psychologists, educators, and scientists. Its founders include Charles Sanders Peirce, sociologist William James, and jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. During the late 19th century, pragmatism became the dominant philosophical doctrine in America (Maxcy 2003).

In general, people who are pragmatic think about matters of fact and what has been or should be rather than how things might be or what they could be. In social work, this philosophy promotes an action-oriented and problem-solving process of inquiry and is a natural fit with the goals of social justice research on issues such as equity and freedom from oppression. It is exemplified by the life and work of Jane Addams, the forebearer of modern social work.

Pragmatists are characterized by their commitment to democracy and their pursuit of knowledge as an ethical endeavor (Biesta 2010). They do not assume that they have the ultimate political perspective or true social theory, but begin with an ethics-based quest for progress, democracy, equality, and fairness for everyone. The pragmatist commitment to democracy is particularly important in the context of the goals of social work research, and is also a feature of pragmatism’s application to other fields such as medicine and psychology. In the latter, pragmatics is used to help individuals better understand and cope with psychological disorders and illnesses. It is also utilized to improve the effectiveness of treatment strategies and to increase patient compliance and retention in programs. In addition, pragmatics is used to develop interventions that are designed to address the needs of specific populations. These interventions may involve psychoeducation, self-management, and/or advocacy for patients with complex needs.