Pragmatic Philosophy for Business Research

Pragmatic is an approach to learning and knowing that emphasizes practical encounters and experiences over theoretical knowledge. Its emphasis on gaining practical experience through direct engagement with the world, rather than abstract theories or speculation, makes pragmatism a natural companion to experiential education, which involves hands-on activities and experiments. Pragmatism also promotes a realistic assessment of uncertainty and encourages individuals to weigh the benefits and risks of actions before taking them.

A key feature of pragmatism is the idea that meaning in language is not a fixed property but rather a negotiation between speakers and the contexts of their utterances. This pragmatic approach to language, known as pragmatics, seeks to understand what speakers mean when they use their words and the ways that listeners try to discern those intentions and meanings.

One major framework of pragmatism is relevance theory, which was first proposed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson. This theory is based on Grice’s ideas about implicature and states that every utterance conveys some relevant information. The information is often implied, which is why a listener may need to track syntactic clues in a conversation to determine what the speaker means by an utterance.

Other aspects of pragmatism include an emphasis on the value of experience, the importance of action and the role of values in shaping decisions and behaviors. However, a key weakness of pragmatism is the tendency to neglect moral or existential concerns. For example, a business may take steps to achieve short-term goals that would benefit the company in the present but at a cost to its reputation or long-term sustainability. While this may provide a quick profit, it’s important to remember that there are moral considerations to be balanced against the need to be successful in the short term.

As a philosophy, pragmatism has many strengths and can be helpful in navigating research on organizations, including the development of research agendas anchored in respondent experiences. By keeping in mind that pragmatism is an iterative process, researchers can ensure their research is responsive to changing organizational practices and emergent problems.

One aspect of pragmatism that has been overlooked is the role of values in shaping decisions and actions. For example, a business that prioritizes the needs of its customers may neglect the needs of employees or its community. This may lead to ethical violations and a loss of corporate integrity. It’s important for leaders to balance the needs of their organization and its mission with the need to make practical decisions that will have a positive impact on the world around them. In doing so, they can remain true to their principles without sacrificing the success of their organization. For example, a clothing company that outsources its production to countries with less stringent labor laws may increase profits but at an ethical cost. The balancing of these values requires careful thought and a strong understanding of what is truly pragmatic in the long run. This is what makes pragmatism such a useful philosophy for researchers and organizational leaders alike.