What is Pragmatic Philosophy?


a person who is pragmatic is concerned more with what works than with what could or should be. a person who is pragmatic is interested in results and consequences. The term pragmatic comes from the Latin pragma meaning “to do.”

Pragmatism is a philosophy that focuses on what does work. It is a philosophical approach to language that considers the ways we use words in interaction with one another and what meaning is implied by our utterances. It also focuses on the interactions and relationships between people using language and what meaning is negotiated in those interactions. It is a philosophical perspective that is a part of linguistics, and it is an important tool in social sciences such as sociology, psychology, and anthropology.

The first self-conscious pragmatists emerged in the United States around 1870. The original ‘classical pragmatists’ were Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), who defined and defended the view, and his Harvard colleague William James (1842-1910), who popularized and further developed it. Peirce was a logician and mathematical physicist and James was a psychologist and moralist with a medical degree. They were all members of a group of Harvard-educated men that met as the Metaphysical Club, and later formed the Chicago School of Thought.

Like the analytic tradition that produced them, the pragmatists were critical of classical naturalism. They saw naturalism as a kind of relativism that could not be sustained by scientific inquiry. In contrast, they were supportive of the scientific revolution taking place at that time, including evolutionary theory. They were also skeptical of the ontological claims of religions but left open the possibility that certain religious experiences might be real.

Contemporary philosophers have interpreted pragmatism in many different ways, reflecting the wide range of interests and applications that the view can have. For example, it has become the basis of a pragmatic philosophy of science that draws on logical analysis and scientific methodology to challenge positivist orthodoxy.

It has also informed liberatory projects in areas such as feminism (Seigfried 1996, Alexander 2013, and others), ecology (Mills 2008), and Native American philosophy (Pratt 2002). It has become a key component of research in the fields of second language pragmatics, interlanguage pragmatics, and tense/mood/aspect systems.

Finally, pragmatism provides a light-hearted alternative to the full-blown theories of truth that characterize most contemporary philosophy. This ‘pragmatic theory of truth’ may be more appropriate, since it does not claim to be a full-fledged theory of truth. It does not require the heavy metaphysical lifting that other philosophical approaches to truth demand, and it leaves the question of what truth actually is wide open. This is a view that would be welcomed by Dewey, and it has influenced some important philosophical developments. These include the discourse ethics of Habermas, whose concept of authentic communication is rooted in pragmatism. In addition, the work of Quine and Carnap, who developed the formal methods of logic, is pragmatist in spirit. This is also true of the pragmatist realism of Nelson Goodman and Wilfrid Sellars.