What Is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is an approach to philosophy that emphasizes the connection between thought and action. It also places an emphasis on the context of a situation and the influence that different social, cultural, and situational factors have on the meaning of words and sentences. This type of pragmatism has become an important component in many fields, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), public administration, political science, leadership studies, and international relations.

The word pragmatic comes from the Greek (“pragmatica”), which means “of practical importance.” People who are pragmatic tend to focus on results and consequences rather than ideals or what could or should be. They are able to make clear, calm decisions when under pressure and see things from more than one angle. The pragmatist view is that the most effective way to change someone’s behavior is to teach them to think critically and respond in a calm, rational way instead of reacting emotionally.

One of the most important contributions that pragmatism has made to philosophical thinking is in epistemology. For a long time, pragmatists have argued that beliefs are true only insofar as they are useful in inquiry and in action. This is a form of pragmatism known as pragmatistic epistemology. James, Dewey, and Peirce all wrote about this kind of pragmatism.

In recent decades, the idea of pragmatism has gained in popularity and prominence among analytic philosophers. Quine’s (1908-2000) influential essay, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” challenged positivist orthodoxy by drawing on pragmatism. Other prominent analytic pragmatists include Ludwig Wittgenstein, Rudolf Carnap, and Nelson Goodman.

While the classical pragmatists were concerned with epistemology, they also had much to say about metaphysics, morality, and aesthetics. James, for example, took a non-reductionist position with respect to religious claims. He believed that the claims of religions might not be true on a metaphysical level, but they might be true on psychological levels. Thus, for James, something like a prayer might be more effective than lying.

Modern pragmatists have continued to expand the scope of pragmatism by applying it to the areas of politics, culture, and society more generally. A number of liberatory philosophical projects, such as feminism, ecology, Native American philosophy, and research methodology, look to pragmatism for guidance.