What is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic describes a person or thing that takes a practical approach to problems. Pragmatism is a philosophy that stresses that reality is in a constant state of change and that the only way to effect real change is through action (pragma meaning “thing done”). The opposite of a pragmatic person would be an idealist who prefers theoretical solutions. Pragmatism is a philosophy widely used in education and has also been applied to the arts, science, business and other fields.

Pragmatism is not as well understood as some of its counterparts, such as idealism and realism. It has been a major influence on the philosophical thought of John Dewey, Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell. It is often referred to as the philosophy of everyday life and has influenced social science, anthropology, sociology, economics, physics, politics, and history.

Basically, pragmatics is about how people communicate in the context of their daily lives. It includes socially constructed rules for turn-taking, greetings, eye contact and how one references others in a conversation. People learn pragmatics through their interactions with others, both as infants and adults.

For example, if a child isn’t making eye contact with others during play and appears to be struggling with the concepts of turn taking or greetings, parents may seek help through a speech therapy program or pediatrician. They will be able to determine if the child has a pragmatic language delay and provide the appropriate treatment.

Pragmatics is also a philosophy about how we make decisions. It allows us to have more options than the extremes of right and wrong. It is the belief that partial truths are valuable and useful in determining what is right or wrong. In the Forum article, “Pragmatic Activities for the Speaking Classroom,” Joseph Siegel suggests that teachers teach pragmatics by coming up with request scenarios and allowing students to decide what response would be most helpful in the situation.

Another concept that is central to pragmatism is inquiry. Inquiry is the pragmatist’s ability to evaluate the possible consequences of a given course of action. This is important because a pragmatist recognizes that there are many things outside of their control. However, they can control how they react to a situation and thus manufacture positive outcomes.

If you’re trying to be more pragmatic, it might take some time to break free of the tendency to over-think every decision. But it’s worth the effort! Practice on smaller decisions at first, then move on to the more challenging ones. The more you do this, the more natural it will become to make pragmatic decisions. And remember, it’s okay to sometimes let the emotion of an event or experience drive your actions–just make sure you’re acting reasonably! Good luck!