Pragmatic Philosophy

Pragmatic is a word that gets used a lot to describe choices, actions, or plans that are considered practical and sensible. It can also be used to describe the ways that we speak or act, particularly in relation to the way that other people hear us.

Pragmatism is a philosophical movement that was developed in the United States in the late nineteenth century by Charles Sanders Pierce, John Dewey, and William James. It advocates that an ideology or proposition is “true” if it works satisfactorily, and that unpractical ideas should be rejected. Pragmatism has had a profound influence on non-philosophers in the fields of business, education, politics, sociology, and psychology, as well as on philosophers themselves.

One of the most recognizable features of pragmatism is its criticism of the traditional empiricist picture of knowledge as a kind of pure, unaltered experience of reality. For example, the pragmatists reject Kant’s dictum that “intuitions without concepts are blind.” The pragmatists also argue that because observation is theory-laden (that is, every act of perception involves interpreting reality in terms of preexisting beliefs and descriptions), our epistemic access to reality is fundamentally limited, and that therefore experience cannot serve as a basic source of justification for theories or worldviews.

The pragmatists have also taken a very different view of truth than the traditional correspondence theory of philosophy, which holds that a belief’s true or false status is determined by its match to an objective reality. The pragmatists have sometimes characterized this view as the truth-function view, or more crudely, the “what works” view. For example, the pragmatist Peirce argued that true hypotheses are those which inquirers will accept at the end of an exhaustive process of investigation. And for Dewey, the truth-function view was beliefs which are “warranted” by inquiry.

A pragmatist view of meaning is that it is a function of the way that utterances are used in particular social contexts, as well as their intended purpose and the expectations of those who listen to them. This view of meaning is often called conversational implicature, and it is central to pragmatics, a field which studies the nature of meaning and communication.

Unlike most linguistic disciplines, the study of pragmatics is interdisciplinary, drawing on philosophy, semantics, logic, and psychology. In addition to the above topics, pragmatics is concerned with how we understand what other people mean when they use words, the role of context in determining what an utterance means, the relationship between meaning and action, and the management of reference in discourse. Several major frameworks in pragmatics are relevant theory, speech acts, rhetorical structure, and the conversational implicature phenomenon. The journal of pragmatics is devoted to the publication of articles in all of these areas. Manuscripts should be submitted electronically through the journal’s website. Only one manuscript per author may be submitted at a time. Manuscripts that are not book reviews will be returned without review. Non-book reviews should be submitted only after a decision on the book review has been received by the journal.