What is Pragmatic Philosophy?
Pragmatic is a word that means “concerned with matters of fact.” People who are pragmatic tend to be more interested in what works than what might or should be. In a business setting, someone who is pragmatic may focus on bringing results rather than on ideals. However, there are some serious pitfalls with this approach that could have negative consequences for both individuals and society at large.
It is important to understand what pragmatism actually entails in order to apply it to your life and work in a meaningful way. To do this, you’ll need to be able to distinguish it from other philosophical movements and understand how it fits in with your worldview.
Generally speaking, pragmatism is an alternative to the analytic and Continental (or ‘Continental’) traditions of philosophy. It arose in the United States around 1870 and owes its early development to Harvard-educated men who formed a so-called Metaphysical Club for informal philosophical discussions. Two of these men, Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, became the first self-consciously pragmatic philosophers. Peirce’s ideas were influenced by the scientific revolution that was underway at the time, particularly evolutionary theory.
James’ ideas were more rooted in his studies of psychology and morality. In a sense, he was the first moral philosopher to become self-conscious about the notion of pragmatism and its implications. His work was heavily influenced by evolutionary theory, as well as by the burgeoning field of social science.
Like Peirce, James was a natural polymath. He was a mathematician, physicist and logician in addition to being a philosopher. These diverse skills enabled him to see the interconnections between different aspects of human thought and behavior. As a result, he was able to devise a philosophical theory that incorporated both naturalism and realism with an emphasis on the functional and practical utility of knowledge and action.
He also stressed the need for change to be embraced, rather than avoided or rejected. He was especially critical of doctrines of metaphysics and idealism that he saw as stifling pragmatic progress. He believed that existence is fundamentally concerned with action, and that it is the function of knowledge to enable humans to adapt to reality and control it.
Another key aspect of pragmatism is the concept that knowledge is always contextual. This is because it must be applied in specific situations to make sense. It is therefore a non-representational or asymmetrical notion of knowledge, in which the knowledge we possess at any given moment is only as good as the context in which we are using it.
The study of contextuality is the field of study known as pragmatics. This is distinct from other areas of linguistics, such as semantics, syntax and semiotics, which are primarily concerned with the literal meaning of expressions. Pragmatics is the study of how we determine what meaning an utterance has in a particular situation and how we use it. For example, the statement “I have two sons” might mean one thing to the speaker and something entirely different to you. You might interpret the statement as a simple sharing of information, while the speaker may see it as an unwelcome monopolization of your time.