What is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is the study of human language as it is used in a social context, looking at implied meanings rather than literal ones. It is an essential part of how we understand one another, without which communication would be difficult or impossible.

Pragmatism is a philosophy which was originally popularized by William James and John Dewey. It was a reaction to idealism and evolution and emphasized the pragmatic function of knowledge. It also argued that existence is in a constant state of becoming, and that it can be directed for our benefit. Some pragmatists have come close to the idea that meaning can be equated with action, though not all pragmatists hold this position.

A person who is pragmatic tends to be more concerned with what works, than what could or should be. A pragmatic person will often consider the consequences of different actions before making a decision, and is likely to take shortcuts which will allow them to get to their goal more quickly.

This type of thinking can be useful in some situations, but there are downsides to being too pragmatic. It can lead to an individual sacrificing their values, or taking advantage of others. For example, a person who is pragmatic might tell a child that there are invisible gremlins living in the electrical outlets, and that they will bite if touched, to stop them from touching them. While this may “work” for the parent, it is not an ethical way to treat a child.

Another major flaw of pragmatism is that it collapses when applied to moral issues. The concept of ‘what works’ becomes incredibly subjective when it comes to morality, where the outcome is defined by morals and not by physical measurements. This is what makes it such a dangerous philosophy, especially in the workplace, where ‘what works’ can be easily abused to justify unethical behavior.

Like any philosophical movement, there are a number of key themes and theses which have loomed large for the pragmatist tradition. This is not to say that these are endorsed by all pragmatists, or even by most pragmatists, but they have been the focus of much debate and discussion.

Pragmatist management researchers can be compared to architects, in that they use whatever materials and methods are necessary to advance their research questions. This is not to say that they are not conscientious, or careful in their approach, but that they are flexible and willing to use any method that will get them the most reliable results.

Language teaching is a good example of this flexibility. Pedagogical interventions can encourage learners to make use of the universal or L1 pragmatic information that they have available, and encourage them to transfer this information to new L2 situations. However, it is well known that many L2 learners are prone to interpreting utterances literally and underusing contextual cues (e.g. politeness marking), and that they may overgeneralize from their own experience of L1 language pragmatics.