What is Pragmatic Communication?

Pragmatic is the adjective that describes a person’s ability to communicate effectively in various situations. A person’s pragmatic skills allow them to politely hedge a request, cleverly read between the lines and negotiate turn-taking norms in conversation, navigate ambiguity in context, and much more.

The pragmatic definition of truth is “that which works” or “that which achieves the most desirable outcome.” This pragmatic view of truth contrasts with idealism, wherein a philosophical system is deemed to be true or false according to its hypothetical best case scenario.

This pragmatism can be seen in the real world, such as when you and your friends agree to disagree on politics and sports, while also maintaining a healthy friendship. This is because you each have different opinions that you value and a mutual respect for the other’s views. You also appreciate that everyone has their own unique perspective on the world, which is part of the fun of philosophizing.

The word pragmatic is also related to a philosophy of language called pragmatics, which is the study of the meaning of speech and language based on how it is used in everyday life. Its sister discipline is sociolinguistics, which focuses on the social implications of language.

In this way, pragmatics studies how meaning is created in a culture or society by the use of cultural signs, body language, and tone of voice when someone speaks. Without these pragmatics, a speaker’s utterances can be unclear or even meaningless to their listeners.

A good example of this is the way people interpret a statement like, “I have two sons.” The semantics of that statement would be that the speaker only has two sons. However, the pragmatics of that statement include a preceding question about children and what the audience knows about the speaker’s family situation. It is these contextual elements that determine a statement’s pragmatic meaning.

After William James’ 1907 essay introducing pragmatism, its popularity seemed to dip significantly until the 1970s when Richard Rorty turned consciously to it to rectify what he saw as mainstream epistemology’s crucial mistake: naively conceiving that thought and language ‘mirror’ the world. His bold and iconoclastic attacks on this ’representationalism’ birthed a so-called neopragmatism to which many influential recent philosophers have contributed (e.g. Hilary Putnam, Robert Brandom and Huw Price). However, it would be misleading to say that classical pragmatist ideals of objectivity have been completely discarded. There are still plenty of areas in philosophy in which rich pragmatist contributions have been made. This article will explore a few of them.