Pragmatic Philosophy

Pragmatic refers to a way of approaching philosophical issues that emphasizes the importance of the connection between thought and action. It is a third alternative to analytic and continental philosophy and has become particularly popular in the United States, although it is now found throughout the world. The main proponents of pragmatics are Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, Josiah Royce and G. H. Mead. Pragmatism has gained popularity in recent years because of its ability to explain and solve complex problems in fields such as linguistics, ethics, and law.

Pragmatism is a philosophy of inquiry, which holds that all truth is a result of a dynamic process of inquiry and learning. The goal of pragmatism is to find the most useful and reliable method for determining truth by evaluating what results in actual practice, as opposed to philosophical abstractions and abstract theories that have no relevance to our everyday lives.

In the first generation of pragmatists, this meant developing an empirical approach to knowledge that included such elements as sensory data, logical connections and practical results. It was a more sophisticated version of the empiricism that dates back to Hume. However, the pragmatists were dissatisfied with ordinary empiricism because it was often thought that all we have is sense data without any further connection or meaning. James and Dewey developed what is sometimes called radical empiricism to address this problem, in which case we should strive to explain all that is given in experience including its connections and meaning rather than dismissing them as subjective additions to a world of whizzing atoms.

The second generation of pragmatists emphasized the role of the individual in defining reality and understanding the world around him. This pragmatism was more humanist than the original pragmatists’ metaphysical positions and it sought to clarify and resolve intractable philosophical disputes. It also incorporated the scientific revolution then underway, with which James and Dewey were deeply involved. It is this view of pragmatism that is sometimes called American pragmatism.

The third generation of pragmatists has been most active in the last fifty or so years, since the publication of Rorty’s work. He is the most well known of the new pragmatists and his work interprets contemporary philosophical issues in areas such as philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and the philosophy of mathematics through the lens of classical pragmatism. His views are widely influenced by his work on Cultural Realism, and he has attempted to bridge analytic and continental philosophy. He is the author of several books, most recently Making It Explicit and Between Saying and Doing. His work has been interpreted by scholars in disciplines as diverse as rhetoric, logic, and philosophy of science. It has inspired applications in fields such as public administration, leadership studies and research methodology. It has also influenced applied areas like public policy, political science and conflict resolution. A recent foray into neopragmatics has been by the Frankfurt School philosopher Jurgen Habermas, who combines analytic philosophers’ goal of systematically theorising language with a hermeneutic and sociological critique of modernity and a pragmatist perspective on communication and hermeneutics.