Pragmatic is a philosophical perspective that examines how concepts, hypotheses, and theories are formed and justified. In this sense, the philosophy of pragmatism is not so much about what something is as it is about how something is, or at least, how something might be formulated to serve human interests and needs. This philosophy thus has many applications across a variety of fields and disciplines. For instance, it is used in the field of education to help students understand how to interpret and apply the information they are given to their own lives and careers. It is also used in the field of psychology to guide therapists in helping their patients understand and interpret their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. It can even be applied to the field of art and literature to help authors and painters shape their work according to this philosophy.
Pragmatism has its origins in the early 19th century in a group of Harvard-educated men known as the Metaphysical Club, including proto-positivist Chauncey Wright and future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Two of the club members went on to become the first self-conscious pragmatists, Charles Sanders Peirce and William James. Their writings and conversations laid the foundation for pragmatic philosophy.
One of the most important aspects of pragmatism is that it has a broad approach to how we form our understanding of reality and how we use language to communicate. The pragmatists believe that the world around us is constantly changing and we must be flexible enough to adapt to it. They also believe that language is not simply a means of communicating with others, but that it is an intrinsic part of our experience. This idea is often referred to as the “cognitive heuristic” of pragmatism.
In a more formal sense, pragmatism is usually considered to be a form of naturalism or empiricism. In other words, pragmatism is an epistemology that is grounded in a theory of experience and the natural world. It is also a philosophy of ethics and morality that is based on the principle that what works best is what should be done.
Unlike other areas of linguistic study, such as semantics (the study of rules that determine the literal linguistic meanings of expressions) and syntax (the way we combine words to create meaningful sentences) pragmatics focuses on non-literal aspects of language and how the physical or social context influences their use. One key framework in pragmatics is relevance theory, which was developed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson.
While pragmatism has been around for a while, it has enjoyed a significant revival since the 1970s. Richard Rorty’s bold attacks on mainstream epistemology’s naive conceit that thought and language reflect the world birthed a neopragmatist movement to which a number of philosophers have contributed. In addition, pragmatism has found new homes in liberatory intellectual projects such as feminism (e.g., Seigfried 1996), ecology (Alexander 2002) and Native American philosophy (Pappas 1998). The development of the internet has also helped rekindle interest in the pragmatist tradition by making it easy to find pragmatism papers and books.