The Philosophy of Pragmatics

Pragmatics are socially constructed rules that govern how individuals interact with one another through speech and other forms of communication. These rules include turn taking, eye-contact and body language. They also guide how others are referenced in conversation and how ambiguity is navigated. These negotiated practices are often implicitly learnt in childhood and they are the basis of our ability to understand one another.

In the classroom, teachers can incorporate pragmatics lessons by linking them to content in textbook units. For example, when teaching about apologies in a foreign language course, the teacher can ask learners how they would apologize in different cultural situations. This helps them understand that the way they communicate in a given culture is dependent on pragmatics.

The field of experimental pragmatics has exploded in recent years, as psycholinguists have sought to understand how the socially structured and contextually defined features of language and discourse influence meaning. However, experimental pragmatics remains in a period of transition and its future is uncertain. This is partly due to a recent crisis within psychology that has been called the “replication crisis.” Many studies in all fields have had significant variations in results and some have even shown negative findings. These discrepancies raise doubts about the validity of much of the current experimental research that is produced in our discipline.

As a result, the pragmatist approach to philosophy of science and human action has been growing in popularity as an alternative to traditional analytic approaches. Many pragmatist philosophers have made important contributions to a wide range of philosophical topics including philosophy of education, social science and the humanities, as well as epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of law, and ethics.

Classic pragmatists were concerned with understanding how things work, and how these works change in time. Their main tenet is that reality is not static, but instead constantly changing. This is known as the ‘pragmatist maxim’ and it is central to pragmatism’s philosophical perspective.

This philosophy of change and learning is not just a theory about how people think, but also has implications for the way they behave. For instance, pragmatists believe that action is the way to change reality and that we can only learn from actions that have been taken (Goldkuhl 2012; Maxcy 2003).

In addition to this epistemological framework, classical pragmatism also provided a practical philosophy of human action. In this view, human behaviour is determined by the commitments that people make in a particular situation or context and these are what determine whether a proposition is true or false. For a number of pragmatists, including Brandom, this meant rejecting the idea that truth is a metaphysical property that can be applied to statements and seeking instead to reconstruct an account of a pragmatic relation between meaning-making and knowledge. This is an important part of pragmatism’s philosophical legacy and a key focus in contemporary debates about the relationship between analytic philosophy and pragmatism.