What is Pragmatic Philosophy?
Pragmatic is a word that describes a person who takes a realistic approach to situations. It’s also a philosophy that prioritizes real-world application of ideas over idealistic notions. Someone who’s pragmatic might not expect to get a unicorn for their birthday, but they would be more likely to ask for a toy car. The term comes from the Greek pragma, meaning “deed.” It has historically been used to describe philosophers and politicians who were more concerned with practical applications of ideas than abstract concepts.
Pragmatics is the study of how meaning is constructed and communicated. It examines a speaker’s intention, the particular circumstances of an utterance and its interpretation, and the implied meanings of words. It is important for understanding the communication process, and how people can misinterpret what others are saying.
The pragmatics of language are a large component of the field of linguistics, and is one of the youngest subfields of that discipline. The word pragmatics is used to distinguish it from semantics, which focuses on the meaning of a sentence in its isolated context, rather than the interaction between speakers and its implications.
Charles Sanders Pierce, John Dewey and William James are considered founding fathers of the pragmatics movement. They each developed theories of communication that emphasized the importance of the implication of an utterance, as well as its relevance to the social and cultural context in which it was uttered. The pragmatics movement is not without its critics, however. One of the most common criticisms relates to its stance on truth. Pragmatists hold that, unlike the traditional views of truth as coherence within a pattern or the correspondence between a proposition and an actual state of affairs, truth is the product of verification. This can be summed up quite crudely: it is what “works.”
Another criticism of pragmatics concerns its treatment of epistemology. The pragmatics movement argues that scientific beliefs should be verified through a process of inquiry, and that this inquiry should be open-ended. This is a significant departure from the more traditional views of epistemology, which are founded on the belief that human knowledge can only be acquired through experience or direct observation.
In the field of education, pragmatics is an important concept to understand when evaluating a child’s development. Children who are able to adapt their behavior to different situations, follow social norms and communicate their feelings effectively are often considered to have pragmatic skills. These skills are essential for typical childhood development and can be helpful for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Teachers can incorporate pragmatics into their classroom lessons through activities such as asking students to work through request scenarios. For example, a teacher might present a scenario that consists of a student asking a peer for help. Then, they might discuss the various ways in which the request could be made and the reasons why certain responses are more appropriate than others. Joseph Siegel provides useful information on teaching pragmatics through these kinds of activities in the Forum article “Pragmatic Activities for the Speaking Classroom.”