What is Pragmatism?
Historically, the word pragmatist was used to describe a politician, a philosopher or an expert in some aspect of human action. It is a word that comes from the Greek pragma, which means “grounded.” A person who is pragmatic is someone who deals with things in a practical way. He or she looks at things from a practical perspective and is a person who pays attention to facts and results.
The term pragmatism, and the concept of the “pragm” in general, is not as dated as it might seem. It was actually developed in the mid-nineteenth century, but its ideas have gained much renewed attention in the United States and other parts of the world. Several books have been written about the history of pragmatism.
A pragmatic approach to a situation looks at what the situation is and what it might be, then looks for the most practical solution. This can be a simple process of observing what works, or it can be a synthesis of several different strategies.
The most important thing to know about pragmatism is that it looks at the practical side of human thought. It is a scientific philosophy, and aims to help us to make sense of the world. In its early days, pragmatism was heavily influenced by the scientific revolution surrounding evolution. It also owes its origins to the philosopher and mathematician Charles Sanders Peirce. His famous work Pragmatic Maxim provided a useful method for rewriting the standard verbal definition of a concept into a description of that concept in practice.
A pragmatic approach also looks at the potential meaning of an utterance. Often, it is not enough to understand the literal meaning of an utterance. A more interesting linguistic slant on the same idea is to look at how the meaning of an utterance can be determined through the context in which the utterance is delivered. For example, if a person greets someone with “Hello”, the person will probably understand who is being greeted. This is because the person will track the syntactic clues and flow of reference in the conversation.
The most useful pragmatist principle is the relevance theory. The theory states that each utterance conveys enough relevant information to be considered a meaningful utterance. It is inspired by Grice’s implicature theory. It also has a few important pitfalls.
Another interesting pragmatist principle is the pragmatic reversal of meaning. In the aforementioned example, a literal response would include the details of the person’s medical condition. But a more sophisticated response would include the details of how the person is responding to the situation. This is not an obvious statement, but one that a pragmatic person would likely have to make.
It is also worth noting that the pragmatic reversal of meaning is not the only practical pragmatism is capable of. For example, the pragmatic reversal of meaning may also be a useful way to deal with social norms in an ethically responsible way.