What is Pragmatism?

Pragmatism is a school of philosophy that emerged around 1870, and represents a third alternative to the ‘Continental’ and ‘analytic’ schools of thought. Its early generations were led by philosophers such as Charles Sanders Peirce and William James. Other early proponents of pragmatism included Josiah Royce, an official ally of absolute idealism who served as a valuable interlocutor for many of its ideas. Many early pragmatists were also influenced by the scientific revolution surrounding evolution.

A pragmatist approaches everything in life with a practical mindset, and focuses on the results rather than the process. The pragmatic approach often involves doing what works, regardless of what others may think. For example, a four-year-old asking for a unicorn for her birthday is not being pragmatic, but is being realistic.

For example, a daughter may simply say that eating cookies makes you gain weight, but a mother may interpret the words as if the daughter had called her friend “fat.” In either case, the pragmatic approach is appropriate. In both cases, the listener must be aware of the speaker’s intentions. A speaker may not be aware of his or her presence, or may have a goal of escaping from the situation.

While semantics is the study of the relations between signs and objects, pragmatics is concerned with the social cues accompanying language. It is about how people say things and how others interpret these things within social settings. This approach to language study is based on the research of philosopher George Herbert Mead, a sociologist and psychologist.

The pragmatic approach to learning is not for everyone, and it can take some practice. However, a pragmatic approach to learning can be influenced by positive experiences in life. For example, a craftsman could be sitting on a scaffold, when his hammer fell out of his hand. To retrieve his hammer, he would have to climb up the scaffold. Another example is a craftsman who is working with a steel-toed work boot.

Pragmatism was first developed in the 1870s in discussions at the Harvard Metaphysical Club. Peirce and James subsequently developed these ideas, and the term eventually gained prominence as a name for a school of thought. James subsequently popularized the concept by giving public lectures in 1898.

Those with pragmatism are focused on results-oriented action, and they are not afraid of putting their goals into practice immediately. A pragmatic approach to life focuses on action, not on wasting time and emotion on irrational musings. If something is unachievable, a pragmatic approach to life can help to overcome those obstacles. It also allows one to live a more productive and fulfilling life.

As a pragmatist, you must consider that certain truths have no universal validity. For example, you can never be certain about a fact or an idea. A pragmatist will accept an idea as “probably true” if it is based on other facts.