Pragmatic Philosophy

Pragmatic (from the Greek “praxis,” meaning practice) is a philosophy that views language and thought as tools for prediction, problem solving, and action. In contrast to more traditional philosophical views such as idealism, pragmatism focuses on the world of things and facts rather than abstract concepts and ideals. Its proponents, including John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce, viewed reality as a constantly changing dynamic that requires an active response to change in order to remain meaningful and useful. They also rejected the idea that science reduces everything to simple, physical phenomena and instead advocated a more flexible theory of knowledge based on experiential and social contexts.

Modern pragmatist philosophers have extended the principles of pragmatism to a wide variety of topics. In linguistics, the pragmatics subfield evaluates how contextual factors contribute to the meaning of an utterance. Linguists who specialize in this area are called pragmaticians. Pragmatics is often compared with semantics and syntax (or syntactics). The boundaries between semantics and pragmatics are sometimes considered to be porous, but usually semantics focuses on the actual objects or ideas that a word refers to and the meaning of an expression as conveyed by a speaker, while pragmatics examines conversational implicatures in terms of the Gricean maxims.

In philosophical logic, pragmatism is often combined with the logical positivism of Rudolf Carnap and Charles W. Morris. This combines the practical maxims of pragmatism with the rules of logical logic that are used to evaluate the truth or falsity of sentences. It is a form of philosophical epistemology, and its proponents view pragmatism as a viable alternative to the strict epistemic standards of classical rationalism.

Pragmatism has been embraced by some philosophers of religion who consider it to be an acceptable alternative to naturalistic empiricism. It has also been endorsed by some philosophers of education, and its ideas have been applied to a range of social issues, including feminist theories. The philosophies of Jane Addams, Margaret Mead and James were consistent with many feminist tenets, and their ideas influenced the work of Mary Parker Follett and others who developed pragmatic feminism in the United States during the early twentieth century.

Pragmatism has also been embraced in bioethics, where it is seen as a suitable framework for the study of human values and preferences. Philosophers such as Micah Hester, Glenn McGee and Griffin Trotter have developed pragmatic approaches to bioethics independent of but extending from the classic pragmatists like Dewey, James and Peirce. In fact, a 1997 anthology published by MIT Press titled Pragmatic Bioethics featured several of these newer applications.