What is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is an approach to the philosophy of life that puts real-world concerns at the forefront. This grounded perspective fosters efficiency, effectiveness, and success in your professional and personal endeavors. Whether you’re a business leader looking to amplify your reach, or a researcher seeking to navigate qualitative applied social research on NGO processes, pragmatism offers a pragmatic way to achieve your goals.

Pragmatism was the brainchild of a group of Harvard-educated men known as The Metaphysical Club who began meeting for informal philosophical discussions in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1870. Its members included proto-positivist Chauncey Wright, future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and two then-fledgling philosophers who went on to become the first self-consciously pragmatists: Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), a logician, mathematician, and scientist; and William James (1842-1910), a psychologist and moralist with a medical degree.

The pragmatists’ common goal was to refocus philosophical inquiry away from the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes and towards our actual lived experience. They wanted to be sure that all the knowledge we gathered was meaningful and relevant, so they rejected theories that were not empirically verified or could not fit existing data. In doing so, they embraced a view of reality that is sometimes described as “fallibilism” because even our most impressive scientific and other theories are prone to change with new knowledge and experience.

Rather than assigning postpositivism and constructivism in two different ontological and epistemological camps, pragmatism provides a framework to incorporate these competing ideologies into one coherent whole. By embracing a pragmatic attitude, you are more concerned with what is or can be than with what should be or might be (Frega 2011). You assess situations objectively and focus on finding feasible solutions. This pragmatic approach to problem-solving and decision-making is useful in any industry.

Your pragmatic knowledge is what allows you to politely hedge a request, cleverly read between the lines, negotiate turn-taking norms in conversation, and navigate ambiguity in context. In other words, pragmatics is the contextual meaning of our language that takes into account social, cultural, and situational factors. It’s what lets you know that while the sentence ‘a stolen painting was found by a tree’ is ambiguous, it most likely refers to the fact that it was discovered by humans.

A pragmatic marketing strategy is one that is focused on understanding your customers and developing your product and service to meet their needs, wants, and pain points. This requires an investment of time and resources, but can lead to higher customer retention and improved brand loyalty. In addition, it can help you save money by avoiding costly mistakes and implementing tactics that are unlikely to work. This is why it’s so important to diligently work through each step of the pragmatic marketing framework before jumping in head-first.