What is Pragmatic Philosophy?

Pragmatic is a word that describes someone or something that takes a realistic approach and focuses on what works best in a particular situation. For example, a four-year-old who wants a unicorn for her birthday isn’t being pragmatic. Pragmatism is also a philosophy that promotes real-world application of ideas, rather than focusing on theory or ideals.

In his 1907 lecture ‘Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking’, American philosopher William James identified a fundamental and seemingly irresolvable clash between two ways of thinking that pragmatism could bridge. He argued that the history of philosophy is to a large extent the history of a clash between the tough-minded empiricist commitment to experience and going by ‘the facts’, on the one hand, and the tender-minded desire for a priori principles which appeal to ratiocination on the other.

For James, pragmatism provided a solution to this dilemma by adopting an original a posteriori epistemology and by combining it with a metaphysics of naturalism and a philosophy of action based on the principle of utilitarianism. The resulting approach to truth and knowledge provides an alternative to both analytic philosophy and continental philosophy.

Although pragmatism has primarily been developed in the United States, it has become increasingly influential worldwide. It has been applied to a wide range of philosophical problems and issues, such as the philosophy of science, ethics, politics, law, aesthetics, and religion. In particular, the pragmatist concept of meaning-in-context has proved particularly valuable in explaining how words and phrases are understood and interpreted by speakers in different contexts.

A major contribution by a pragmatist is Habermas’ discourse ethics, which has had significant influence on political philosophy, sociology, the philosophy of law, and philosophy of education. More recently, a new generation of pragmatists has developed pragmatic approaches to metaphysics, phenomenology, and the philosophy of language.

The study of pragmatics is a relatively young field, but research is beginning to show that individual differences in children’s pragmatic abilities are related to their linguistic and cognitive development. The most important factor in pragmatic development appears to be the child’s social and family environment. Children from families with higher parental involvement in their education have more advanced pragmatic skills than children from families with less participation.

The goal of pragmatics is to teach children how to interpret and use the social and environmental cues that they encounter during communication. This is accomplished through direct instruction, modeling appropriate behaviors and implementing pragmatic strategies that are age-appropriate and relevant to the individual’s needs and interests. In addition, the goals set should reflect the developmental level of the child. Typically, goals for younger children are more focused on turn-taking and interpreting social cues, while those for older children are more focused on extending their lexicon, vocabulary, grammar and their ability to understand context.