What Is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is the study of the pragmatics of language and human communication. It looks beyond the literal meaning of an utterance and focuses on implied meanings, as well as cultural context. It also considers the responses that follow an utterance. Pragmatics is a key component of human understanding, and without it we would have a very difficult time understanding what other people are trying to say.

Although there is no pragmatist creed, or even a set of ideas that are endorsed by all pragmatists, it is possible to identify certain themes and theses to which many pragmatists have tended to subscribe. These include the emphasis on empiricism, pragmatist criticism of realism and idealism, and the notion that truth is a social construction and is best determined by practice.

It is easy to see how pragmatism collapses when it is applied to moral issues. For example, “what works” becomes arbitrary when it comes to ethics and morality. A utilitarian approach to morality can be seen as a justification for the genocide of entire populations, or it may simply be used to excuse one’s own moral preferences to the detriment of others. It is for this reason that most pragmatists would avoid applying their philosophy to matters of morality.

The second flaw that pragmatism faces is the problem of the limits of knowledge and understanding. For example, a child’s theory that invisible gremlins live in electrical outlets and will bite if touched, “works” by avoiding touching the outlets, but it is far from true. Even if there were invisible gremlins in the outlets, their presence would be highly unlikely given the environment and the fact that most electrical outlets are outside or away from the walls.

Another difficulty facing pragmatism is that it is not always compatible with other philosophical traditions, especially analytic philosophy. It is also a highly challenging concept to teach in schools, because different cultures have their own pragmatic norms that must be taken into account. For example, a child from an Asian background will not develop the same way as a child from a European background.

Despite these problems, pragmatism continues to thrive as an alternative to analytic and continental traditions worldwide. There are many young people who are being raised in a pragmatic culture, and there is a growing movement to introduce pragmatics in school curricula. This trend is likely to continue, as pragmatic thinking offers a valuable alternative to more traditional approaches that are often rooted in outdated and restrictive theories of learning. In addition, the growing world economy means that people need to learn how to work and communicate in diverse and multicultural environments. The lessons of pragmatism are relevant for all of us.