What is Pragmatics?

Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics that studies the way context contributes to meaning. It examines the intentions and beliefs of speakers, as well as the strategies they employ to convey their ideas to others. Pragmatics is a field that encompasses several other subfields of linguistics, such as semantics and syntax. In contrast to semantics, which analyzes the literal meaning of words and sentences, pragmatics focuses on what is actually meant to be said. Pragmatics is concerned with the social context of language, and aims to provide a more complete picture of human communication than does grammatical analysis.

There are a variety of perspectives within the field of Pragmatics, with some of the more prominent theories including Speech Act Theory, Generative Semantics, and Conversational Impliciture. In general, pragmatists view utterances as having a conventional meaning that is determined by the words used and their modes of composition, as well as a referential meaning that is established through other factors such as ambiguity or indexicality.

While the pragmatists agree that the conventional and referential contents of an utterance are determined by the context, they disagree about what this means for the epistemological status of such content. The pragmatists tend to reject the epistemological arguments of positivism and constructivism, and instead view knowledge as being a continuum between two extremes: objective truth (objectivist) and subjective truth (constructivist).

In terms of research methodology, the pragmatists place more importance on detecting a research problem and taking adequate action to address it than in the choice of methodologies. This allows a researcher to utilize both quantitative and qualitative approaches, and it also gives the freedom to modify research methods as needed (Feilzer 2010).

This pragmatic view of knowledge is based on the fact that people’s perceptions of reality are shaped by their own social experiences. It also recognizes that knowledge is constructed with a purpose, so that the person who constructs it can better manage their lives and take part in society. Pragmatism does not view knowledge as being true, but rather as being a useful construct to help manage one’s life.

In the philosophy of science, pragmatism has a long history, starting with the philosophers Peirce and James. In more recent times, a philosophical movement called neo-pragmatism has embraced the notions of pragmatism as a middle ground between positivism and constructivism in research methodology. Like pragmatism, neo-pragmatism is not committed to either the objectivity of science or the subjectivity of art, but views scientific inquiry as a process that is capable of producing knowledge that is valid in its own way. The neo-pragmatists believe that this knowledge is valuable, but they do not believe that it is necessarily superior to other forms of knowing or that it represents an absolute truth. In addition, they are careful not to confuse pragmatism with the utilitarian idealism of John Dewey or Bertrand Russell.