What is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is the study of how we use language in social situations. It’s what allows us to understand a friend saying, “Hey, do you want to go out for coffee?” or a colleague asking, “Can I take the morning off?” We develop pragmatic skills throughout our lives by being exposed to language around us and by engaging socially with others. However, it can be difficult for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to develop pragmatic skills as early as other people because they are unable to hear the sounds of the language being spoken.

Classical pragmatists, such as Dewey and James, focused on examining what is meaningful in life and how we make choices. Their ideas have influenced the philosophy of education, psychology, law, and religion, among other fields.

Unlike many philosophical movements, there is no definitive creed that binds all pragmatists together, nor a list of core articles that all pragmatists must agree on. But there are certain themes and theses that loom large in the pragmatist tradition.

One of the most important concepts in pragmatics is that of ‘context’. When we interact with others, we communicate through speech and body language. This communication takes place in a context that is determined by the social and cultural environment in which we live.

For example, a friend might ask if you want to go for a coffee in the cafeteria, while he is eating lunch with his colleagues. The answer to the question is based on the social situation and how you would like the other person to react.

Another concept is the Gricean maxims, which are four general rules for constructing meaningful utterances. These include being concise, not saying things that aren’t true, and being clear.

Pragmatism has also had a profound influence in the philosophy of science, especially through its emphasis on inquiry. It has led to a more ‘problem-solving’ approach that focuses on identifying and using what works, rather than following preconceived theories. It has also influenced ethics, including discourse ethics, which builds a framework for authentic communicative action that is free from the distortions of power and ideology.

As the progressive era ended and the United States moved into the Cold War, pragmatism waned in popularity and prestige in philosophy departments. Even so, pragmatists continued to publish and collaborate. During this time, Dewey forged productive links with the philosopher George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) and the African-American thinker W.E.B Du Bois (1868-1963).

By the 1940s, however, analytic philosophy had emerged as a self-consciously rigorous import from Europe that soon replaced Dewey’s original methodological stance at most Anglo-American universities.

Despite this setback, pragmatism has continued to thrive in places like Japan, South America and Scandinavia, where vibrant research networks have arisen. It remains a significant force in philosophy today, with major contributions to the philosophy of religion, ethics, political philosophy, and the philosophy of law making its way into the sciences and social studies as well.