Pragmatic Philosophy

Pragmatic is a philosophy of language and human action that holds that meaning is inseparable from the use of language in context. The term may also refer to a branch of linguistics called pragmatics, which studies how contextual factors contribute to the interpretation of speech acts, as well as the general philosophical movement which has adopted this philosophy of language and action.

The original pragmatist philosophers were primarily American, and their works are available in various editions. Many scholars have made significant contributions to pragmatism, particularly in relation to the issues of religion and science. Pragmatism is widely taught in schools in the US, and there are numerous academic journals and societies which study it.

A key idea in pragmatism is that something only has a meaningful if it is useful in some way. This is a view which has influenced the philosophy of education and many other areas of human activity. It has been criticised for its relativism and neo-positivism, but it has been defended as providing an alternative to strict forms of naturalism.

Other philosophies that have incorporated aspects of pragmatism include the social constructivist movement in psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy, and the theory of action in sociology. The pragmatist approach is also influential in the philosophy of art, where it has contributed to theories of aesthetics and phenomenology.

There have been several developments of pragmatism since its beginnings in the late 19th century. These have ranged from the cooperation of pragmatism and logical positivism in the works of Charles W. Morris and Rudolf Carnap to the use of the pragmatic maxim in an epistemology. The influence of pragmatism has also spread to a wide variety of liberatory philosophical projects, such as those of feminism (Seigfried 1996) and ecology (Alexander 2013).

Contemporary philosophers who have influenced pragmatism include Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam and John Dewey. Putnam, for example, has a critical stance towards some of the basic tenets of James and Peirce, but he sees pragmatism as offering a promising basis for resolving dichotomies such as that between truth and utility; between fact and value; thought and experience; mind and body; analytic and synthetic. He has therefore sought to construct a philosophy of ‘enlightenment’ which draws on the rich understanding of experience and science offered by pragmatism. In this he has joined other pragmatists in denying that there is a substantial metaphysical property of truth, and in asserting that philosophical concepts must be ‘tested’ by scientific experimentation.