Pragmatic Philosophy

Pragmatic relates to the study of human language, communication and interaction. It examines what people really mean when they say something and focuses on implied meaning. It also explores the way in which we can disambiguate meaning to better understand each other and our world. Pragmatics is very important to human interaction, because it makes the interactions that we have with one another more productive and meaningful. Without pragmatics, there would be a lot of confusion and miscommunication that could lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

It is a philosophical movement that was first developed in the United States around 1870, and offers an alternative to both analytic and continental philosophical traditions. Classical pragmatists included Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and their Harvard colleague Josiah Royce. These pragmatists were critical of absolute idealism and stressed that knowledge and language are tools for predicting, problem solving and action, rather than for reflecting, mirroring or describing reality. They were especially critical of moral and metaphysical doctrines that relegate change and action to the status of a mere practical matter.

In his 1905 Pragmatist Ethics, William James wrote that something is true only if it works. Peirce also claimed that truth is “the limit toward which endless investigation would tend to bring scientific belief” (EP2: 357). In a similar vein, John Dewey defined truth as that which is “warranted by experience.”

A core element of pragmatism is the view that language is essentially an instrument for achieving practical goals and that most of our beliefs are grounded in experiences. This is known as instrumentalist pragmatism. Some pragmatists like Peirce and James even went so far as to define knowledge as that which is verified by experience. In addition to a view of truth as the successful working of a belief, pragmatists also have a utilitarian approach to epistemology.

In the area of aesthetics, pragmatists such as John Dewey emphasize that art is integral to the human experience and is an essential part of our daily lives. His work Art as Experience argues that art is an experience in which we participate and not simply receive, and is therefore more than a mere object of appreciation. A contemporary pragmatist in the field of aesthetics is Joseph Margolis.

The philosophical movement of pragmatism has grown to be an influential school of thought, and has been applied in numerous fields beyond philosophy. Public administration, political science, leadership studies and international relations have all incorporated the pragmatism’s emphasis on the connection between thought and action.

Computational Pragmatics, a subfield of natural language processing, involves teaching computers to understand context so that they can better respond to incoming data and more accurately interpret human intention. Reference resolution, which is how a computer determines whether two words refer to the same thing or not, is an example of computational pragmatics. In all of these applications, the goal is to reduce ambiguity and make understanding easier for humans and computers alike.