Pragmatic Philosophy

Pragmatic is a philosophical movement that sees most questions concerning knowledge, language, meaning, and belief as best viewed in terms of their practical uses and consequences rather than as abstract intellectual problems. Pragmatists typically regard language as a means of communicating with other people, and view human thought as a way of functioning, not as mirroring or describing reality.

Contemporary approaches to pragmatics vary widely in their philosophical orientation and methodology. Some, like Carston (2005), treat pragmatics as a discipline within philosophy; others, like Grice’s M-intention model, take a more linguistic and experimental approach. Still others, like the ‘contextualists’ (such as Bach and Harnish), treat pragmatics as part of the science of natural language processing, attempting to bridge the gap between classical semantics (treating propositional content as either ‘true’ or ‘false’) and intuitionistic semantics (dealing with illocutionary forces).

One key feature of pragmatism is that it treats language as an instrument for communication. Hence, the notion of communicative intention is central to pragmatics. This concept is the basis for the notion of the ‘implicit’ or ‘derivational’ meaning of an utterance, and of the ‘functional’ or ‘normative’ meaning of an utterance, which are both essential components of the theory of pragmatics.

Another important feature of pragmatism is the idea that human knowledge is partial. This is the core of pragmatist epistemology, which contrasts with traditional skepticism and scientific realism. It also provides the basis for a form of social epistemology that is characterized by a commitment to deliberative democracy and a pragmatist conception of education.

The philosopher John Dewey is often associated with pragmatism, and his ideas are applied in pragmatic ways in many disciplines, including education, art, and sociology. He developed a pragmatist approach to aesthetics, emphasizing that art is not just a product or an object of study, but also a way of being. He also advocated a pragmatist philosophy of religion, and influenced American pragmatism through his work in social epistemology.

Richard Rorty and other neopragmatists treat pragmatics as a central issue in the philosophy of language and of knowledge. They defend a variety of pragmatic forms of contextualism against the semantic varieties of context-dependence that are commonly defended by analytic philosophers, and they apply pragmatic concepts to a range of areas in continental philosophy, such as argumentation theory and informal logic. Moreover, they have developed a new branch of pragmatics that is called media philosophy. This new discipline deals with the use of language in the mass media, and it is influenced by the work of Dewey, James, Peirce, and others. In addition, neopragmatists apply a broad spectrum of empirical research to their analysis of pragmatics.