Pragmatic is a philosophy that emphasizes practicality and common sense. People who are pragmatic focus on results and consequences and don’t get bogged down with theories of what could or should be. They tend to think logically and step by step, and prefer taking action rather than sitting under the stars and wondering why we exist.
The pragmatist philosophy emerged in the United States around 1870 and has grown into an increasingly viable third alternative to analytic and continental philosophical traditions worldwide. Its early self-conscious pragmatists included Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), the logician and mathematician who coined the term, and William James (1842-1910), the psychologist who applied pragmatism to many areas of thought. The philosophy was further developed by Dewey, James’s Harvard colleague Josiah Royce (1855-1916), and George Herbert Mead (1863-1931).
One key idea of pragmatism is that truth consists of the way a theory works in practice, not in some absolute, metaphysical sense. Pragmatists also emphasized the plasticity of reality and that change is an essential part of existence, although they were critical of moral and metaphysical doctrines that treat change as bad or evil.
The pragmatic view of reality grew out of Peirce’s concept of a “third dimensional” space in which meaning is not limited to the semantic and syntactic levels. It also arose from the observation that a person’s behavior is not determined by his or her beliefs, but is influenced by the social context in which he or she operates.
This pragmatic philosophy is most often applied to human language and behavior, but it has also been used in the arts, the sciences, politics, education, religion, and business. It is the basis for the study of communication and culture, including social interaction, ethics, aesthetics, and human development. Pragmatics is related to other areas of linguistic study, such as semantics (the study of rules that determine the literal linguistic meanings of expressions), syntax, and semiotics (the study of signs and symbols).
Some philosophers, such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, have suggested that pragmatics is not just an area of study but is a central concept in the philosophy of language. Others, such as Paul Ricoeur, have argued that pragmatics is the most fundamental and important aspect of philosophy, and that understanding the nature of language is crucial to a full philosophical approach. In addition to defining what is meant by a word, pragmatics is crucial in the philosophy of mind, since it allows us to understand the ways that ideas and words are influenced by their surroundings and context. It is possible that pragmatics and theories of mind (ToM) are distinct and overlapping concepts, but further research will be needed to disentangle these two.