What Is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is a philosophical viewpoint that examines the relationship between knowledge and action. It views reality as in a constant state of becoming and emphasizes that knowledge and belief are interpreted by action (Goldkuhl 2012; Morgan 2014a). In the context of pragmatism, an action is defined as a conscious attempt to understand and change the world. Therefore, it is through a process of action that truth is discovered and a person’s belief system becomes true or false. In a pragmatist perspective, a belief can only be known to be true or false if it proves helpful in advancing one’s existence in the world. This is a reversal of the traditional philosophy that believes a statement to be true in and of itself (Morgan 2014b).

The word pragmatic comes from the Greek praxis, which means “to do.” Pragmatics looks at how people interpret and use language in order to achieve their goals and needs. For example, someone with strong pragmatic language skills can express their thoughts and feelings clearly and build healthy relationships. They also have the ability to empathize with others, understanding different perspectives and emotions. This enables individuals to communicate effectively in both personal and professional settings.

While pragmatism has gained popularity in recent years, it faces many challenges. Its empiricism and skepticism have led some philosophers to dismiss it as simply another philosophical option. Its agnosticism can be misconstrued as indifference, and its emphasis on doing is seen as a way to evade morality (Kelemen and Rumens 2013). Furthermore, it has not garnered wide acceptance and influence within the analytic tradition of philosophy, which has shaped mainstream philosophy since the 17th century.

Although pragmatics has been influenced by a variety of disciplines, it shares common features with linguistics. In particular, it considers the relationship between perception and rule-following augmented by some species of ‘ampliative’ inference (Grice 1973). In terms of methodology, pragmatism is a philosophical stance that encourages researchers to seek truth by doing rather than by arguing for its existence.

As a guiding epistemological framework, pragmatism can strengthen each step of the research process, from its inception and design to data collection, analysis and dissemination. The article highlights three core pragmatist principles, and uses examples from two qualitative doctoral projects on non-government organizations to demonstrate their application at each stage of the research. By promoting research practicality and an interconnectedness between experience, knowing and action, pragmatism is a useful paradigm to navigate qualitative applied social research on NGO processes.