What is Pragmatics?
Pragmatics is a philosophical approach that seeks to understand the role of language in human interaction. It examines the linguistic, sociological, and psychological contexts of a communication. It also considers the ways that a linguistic utterance can be understood and the potential meanings that a linguistic utterance may hold.
Its roots are in the American pragmatist tradition, which was started by two self-conscious philosophers: Charles Sanders Peirce and William James. The first generation of pragmatists was distinguished by their original a posteriori epistemology, based on experimentation and mental reflection. It is a theory of knowing that is founded on the understanding that a person’s ability to know the world, and thus the nature of reality, rests on their capacity to make decisions and take action in response to those decisions.
Among other important tenets, pragmatics is based on the idea that a person’s knowledge of the world is inseparable from their agency in the world (Seigfried 1996). It is an approach to philosophy that seeks to explain and resolve intractable disagreements about metaphysics, epistemology, and the nature of reality by arguing that all beliefs have to be tested through scientific experimentation and only those which prove useful or relevant in inquiry and action are considered true.
The term ‘pragmatics’ is often confused with’semantics’ and’syntax’, but these terms have different definitions and rely on different factors for determining the literal linguistic meanings of expressions.
Semantics is the study of rules that determine the meaning of a linguistic utterance; syntax is the study of how we combine words to form sentences with specific meaning; and semiotics is the study of symbols and signs used in communication.
These three aspects of linguistics can be studied in isolation but they are better studied when combined to provide a fuller picture of the role of language in human interactions and social relations. Without the fucntion of pragmatics, a person would have little understanding of what other people mean when they say or do things.
Pragmatics is also used to understand the relationships between a speaker’s intentions and what they mean when they speak or act. It is important for children to learn the skills of expressing their feelings and opinions in a clear way that others can understand them.
If a person is not aware of the implications of their actions or statements, they can become misunderstood by other people and be judged in an unfair manner. This is a problem that can be prevented with the aid of pragmatics.
The field of pragmatics is gaining prominence as a liberatory intellectual tradition in many fields, including feminism, ecology, Native American philosophy, and Latin American philosophy. It has also been adopted by other disciplines such as public administration, leadership studies, international relations, conflict resolution and research methodology.
While there are many pragmatists, a few major figures in the pragmatist tradition are Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), William James (1842-1910), and John Dewey (1859-1952). Though James had been a prominent analytic philosopher, he is widely considered one of the founders of pragmatism. Unlike Peirce, James was a psychologist and moralist, which helped him to develop a more practical approach to philosophy. The pragmatist movement has gained in popularity and is now a significant third alternative to the analytic and ‘Continental’ philosophical traditions worldwide.