What is Pragmatic?

Pragmatic is a term used to describe someone who focuses more on the practical side of things. This person is likely to look at the consequences and outcomes of a situation before making any decisions. They might also focus on what has worked in the past instead of what could or should be. This pragmatic approach is often referred to as common sense, though it is not necessarily a negative thing.

Pragmatism is a philosophical movement that originated in the 1907 essay titled “Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking.” In this essay, James described a fundamental clash of two different ways of thinking that he promised pragmatism would bridge. He characterized the clash as a ‘tough-minded adherence to experience’ and the ‘tender-minded preference for a priori principles based on ratiocination.’

James also emphasized the pragmatic function of knowledge as an instrument for adapting to reality and controlling it. He was particularly critical of moral and metaphysical doctrines in which change was viewed as an uncontrollable force that must be accepted rather than one that can be directed to improve the world around us.

He also advocated that beliefs were dispositions which qualified as either true or false based on how helpful they proved to be in inquiry and action. He was particularly skeptical of the notion that truth is a substantial metaphysical property possessed by some propositions, but in favor of an account of reference which makes a difference in practice (Brandom 1994; Brandom 2000).

Contemporary pragmatists have made various theoretical contributions to areas of philosophy and linguistics. In philosophy, the pragmatists have contributed to issues in epistemology and metaphysics and have reframed the debate between idealism and realism. They have developed a theory of meaning that goes beyond the traditional semantics of language and include theories of conversational implicature, speech act theory, and more. They have also reframed the debate between relativism and pragmatism, arguing that a combination of the two is necessary for human rationality.

In linguistics, pragmatism is associated with the pragmatics of language, which considers the meaning potential of an utterance based on context. This is in contrast with grammatical semantics which focuses on the referential content of words.

Many fields have embraced the ideas of pragmatism including public administration, politics, political science, leadership studies, conflict resolution, and research methodology. Some schools of psychology have even incorporated pragmatism into their curriculum. Despite the widespread popularity of this philosophical position, there are some serious issues that can be raised about pragmatism. Specifically, when it is applied to ethics and morality, it can completely implode. Most people can immediately recognize that pragmatism is just relativism with a less-polished appearance. This is why it is important to make a distinction between pragmatics and ethics and morality. Generally speaking, the differences are clear and easy to understand. However, the lines can get blurry when it comes to ethical and moral dilemmas. If you are trying to determine whether or not a particular solution is pragmatic, it might be best to consult with your counselor or therapist for some guidance.