What Is Pragmatic Communication?

Pragmatic is the study of how people use language to communicate. It focuses on the social, cultural, and situational factors that influence the meaning of words and sentences. Pragmatics is not to be confused with semantics, which refers to the literal or grammatical meaning of words.

The term pragmatic was first coined in 1898 by William James, but pragmatists credited Charles Sanders Peirce with its origin. The name is derived from the notion of “plastic” or “flexible,” and pragmatists believe that knowledge and reality are not static, but are constantly changing as we experience it. Unlike idealism, which exalts human will to change reality, pragmatism sees the “plastic” nature of reality as the foundation for action.

In its most straightforward form, pragmatism defines truth as the process of verification or as what works. This means that a theory, belief, or claim is true if it generates acceptable results. A child believing in invisible gremlins living in electrical outlets who will bite if touched is an example of a pragmatic theory that “works.”

Most people can immediately recognize that pragmatism implodes if applied to ethical and moral issues. When the concept of what is true or morally right is based on how well an idea or theory produces results, it becomes just another form of relativism with a less-polished appearance.

The concept of pragmatism has been influenced by a number of other disciplines, including sociology and anthropology, both the study of humans in society and their culture. Sociology, especially, has helped develop a pragmatic approach to communication by focusing on the importance of context in understanding what is being said.

Pragmatism has a few key flaws, though. Most people can see that it is logically flawed when applied to ethics and morality, since the concept of what is truth or right changes depending on who you are and how you are feeling at any given moment. It also loses its appeal when it is relegated to the realm of mere utility, with no guiding values or principle attached to it.

The concept of pragmatism is useful in analyzing how we choose and use information, and it provides a useful tool for understanding the way that people interact with one another. For example, when someone asks how you are doing, the pragmatic response is to simply say how you feel without going into all of your medical and personal details, which would be rude. Instead, we use our pragmatic knowledge to interpret the intent of the question and respond accordingly. The ability to do this is often referred to as knowing how to read between the lines, and it is an important component of pragmatics.