What is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is an adjective that describes a person or solution that takes realistic approach to real-world problems. It is rooted in the Greek word pragma, meaning “deed,” and the philosophy that it refers to has historically described philosophers and politicians who were more concerned with the practical applications of ideas than they were with abstract notions. The four-year-old who wants a unicorn for her birthday isn’t being pragmatic, as she is asking for something that won’t be possible to fulfill in the long run.

The philosophical tradition of Pragmatism emerged from American universities in the 1870s as a third alternative to analytic and continental traditions worldwide, with Peirce, James, Mead, and Dewey leading the first generation of self-conscious pragmatists. A number of subsequent pragmatists, most notably Rorty, have been skeptical of the idea that empirical knowledge rests on an epistemically privileged set of foundational beliefs, arguing that it is more like a coherent web than a hierarchical structure (Pearce 1966); that truth is a consequence of pragmatically grounded beliefs, not a metaphysical property that a proposition may possess or not; and that the logic of justification is a matter of entitlements in the language-game of argumentation rather than an atomic metaphysical structure of certainties (Brandom 1994).

Linguistic Pragmatics:

Linguistic pragmatics is the study of how people use language to convey information and communicate intentions and actions, and how speakers negotiate these communication goals with one another in varying contexts. It deals with questions such as: what does it mean for speakers to be pragmatic? How do speakers know what to say when they don’t have complete information about a situation? How do speakers manage to communicate a goal when they have not yet achieved that goal?

A key part of pragmatics is the notion that every utterance contains some relevant information for the listener. Speakers make decisions about how to present this information in order to maximize the chances that their utterance will be understood by their addressees. Managing the flow of reference is a core principle in pragmatics, and one of its major frameworks is relevance theory, which was proposed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson.

There are many ways that pragmatics can be applied to ESL/EFL teaching. For example, pragmatics can be used to help teachers understand the social aspects of language learning. It can also be used to teach students about how to interact with colleagues from different cultures, as well as the role that cultural differences play in the pragmatics of different language systems. In addition, pragmatics can be used to highlight the fact that a person’s understanding of what another speaker means by an utterance depends on the context in which it is said. This type of linguistic pragmatics is an important element of intercultural competence.