What is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is the study of context as it pertains to meaning. It’s a subfield of linguistics that deals with the way that a speaker might interpret an utterance and how a listener might respond to it. It differs from semantics because it considers the social, cultural and situational aspects of language use. Linguists who specialize in pragmatics are known as pragmaticians.

For example, a person might be considered pragmatic in the sense that they are concerned more with what results and consequences than they are with what could or should be. If that person is also a good negotiator, they may be able to negotiate their way out of a conflict in the best possible way. They might also be described as being a person who always considers the other side’s viewpoint before making a decision.

Pragmatism is a philosophical movement that emerged in the mid-19th century and influenced thinkers such as Peirce, James, Dewey and others. It is a form of empiricism that emphasizes the role of experience in the genesis of knowledge and the role of beliefs in determining action. It also stresses that what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another. It is not, as some have erroneously concluded, a rejection of formal logic and instead regards it as a tool to be used in the service of inquiry.

The main ideas of pragmatism originated in discussions at the Metaphysical Club in Harvard in 1870. From there they spread through publications by James and Peirce. They were adopted and developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries by a number of philosophers, psychologists and lawyers.

Some key ideas in pragmatism are:

1. That experience is the only genuine mode of knowing.

2. That beliefs qualify as true only if they prove useful in inquiry and action.

3. That a belief is only valid if it represents reality and 4. That beliefs acquire meaning through the struggle of intelligent organisms with their environment.

5. That the world is a complex and unpredictable place and that we can only gain a true understanding of it by making progress toward solving real problems.

6. That a goal of education should be to teach students how to make progress toward solving real problems and 7. That the best means of achieving that goal is by implementing a problem-centered pedagogy.

8. That a pragmatist philosophy of education should focus on the development of critical thinking skills and the cultivation of an attitude of curiosity.

9. That a pragmatist philosophy should encourage the development of an individual’s creative imagination, self-reflection and independent judgement.

10. That a pragmatist philosophy is a natural ally of liberatory philosophical projects in areas such as feminism, ecology, Native American philosophy and Latin American philosophy.

Although the main focus of a pragmatist philosophy is on language, the theory has implications for other topics such as the nature of knowledge, ethics and aesthetics. It has also been applied to the practice of education.