What Does it Mean to Be Pragmatic?

Pragmatic is a word used to describe someone who is focused on the outcome of an action, rather than an ideology or ideal. Pragmatists focus on what works, and try to avoid being overly emotional. They are often matter-of-fact and can sometimes ignore their own ideals in order to achieve a goal. This article will explain what it means to be pragmatic and how it differs from pragmatism, which is a philosophical movement that claims that an idea only has meaning if it works, and that unpractical ideas should be rejected.

Pragmatism emerged in the United States during the latter quarter of the nineteenth century, and it has had significant influence on non-philosophers, notably in law, education, politics, sociology, psychology, and literature. Its major philosophers include John Dewey, Charles Sanders Peirce, and William James.

Unlike rationalism and empiricism, which have a lot in common, pragmatism does not have a neat creed with a list of essential articles that all pragmatists endorse. However, there are certain themes and theses that have loomed large in the pragmatist tradition.

One of these is the coherence theory of truth. This holds that facts need to be coherent as a set, and that they cannot be true if they conflict with other facts. For instance, if you know that rain causes floods, and you have a wild theory about cats that control the weather, you would probably not be considered a pragmatist because your knowledge of physics contradicts the fact that cats don’t control the weather.

Another of the core ideas of pragmatism is that truth is about what creates practical outcomes. This is often referred to as far-side pragmatics, and it’s important to note that pragmatists don’t necessarily believe this to be the only truth about what is true. For example, if a myth has a practical value in the context of a culture, it may be useful to accept this as truth, even though it isn’t technically true.

Productive assumptions are also a central part of pragmatics. This is the practice of creating assumptions that maximize productivity, even if they are not actually true. For instance, a parachutist who assumes that their parachute will open can be more productive by spending less time checking it than they would by taking the time to be 100% sure that it will work.

The final big theme of pragmatism is that ideas are only meaningful if they can be validated in the real world. This is an important distinction from the scientific method, which only applies to things that can be objectively tested and verified. A pragmatist will therefore not be surprised by the results of an experiment; instead, they will expect them to match their expectations and assumptions. This approach makes it easy for pragmatists to reject ideas that are not valid, and to embrace new ones as they become useful. However, it does mean that pragmatists are often more willing to accept uncertainty than other philosophers.