If you’re a student of language, then you know the importance of pragmatics. Pragmatics is the study of the contextual meaning of words and sentences. This means it goes beyond the literal meaning and considers implied meanings, social factors, and situational contexts.
Pragmatics is important because it helps us understand how people use and interpret language. It also helps us understand how people interact with each other and the way they communicate. Without pragmatics, we wouldn’t be able to understand how our actions affect each other and the world around us.
What is a pragmatic?
Pragmatism is a philosophy that advocates action over ideology. In other words, the end justifies the means. For example, if capitalism leads to more prosperity than socialism, then it’s worth pursuing that path even if the moral costs are high. Similarly, if nuclear weapons can be used to destroy a city, then it might be necessary to sacrifice some lives in order to save the lives of many more.
Although pragmatism was developed in the United States, it has had an impact on philosophical thought across the globe. It emerged in the 1870s among a circle of Harvard-educated intellectuals known as “The Metaphysical Club.” The members included proto-pragmatists Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, as well as realists such as Chauncey Wright and Oliver Wendell Holmes.
A central concept of pragmatism is that reality is a process and knowledge is a tool for understanding it. As such, pragmatists tended to devalue metaphysical notions of truth and reality and exalt change as an essential part of human existence. They were critical of doctrines that relegate change and action to the level of mere utility, arguing that this undermined the value of such changes and left them at the bottom of a hierarchy of values.
In practical terms, pragmatism can help researchers steer clear of metaphysical debates over the nature of reality and focus on achieving realistic insights into concrete issues. For example, pragmatists advocate keeping respondents in the communication loop throughout the research process so that they can provide impromptu feedback. This enables the analytical process to remain dynamic and iterative rather than a linear journey toward a predetermined set of conclusions.
This approach to research is often referred to as pragmatic inquiry and has become a key feature of qualitative research methodologies. The main advantage of pragmatic inquiry is its focus on the interconnection between experience, knowing and action. This is an important point in the context of a research project as it enables researchers to explore how and why participants take the decisions that they do, rather than focusing on predetermined conclusions or theories. The resulting insights are often more robust and meaningful than those produced through an inflexible, pre-determined research strategy. This article was originally published in Issue 2 of PRAGMATIC MAGAZINE.