Pragmatic Philosophy

Pragmatic is the study of how meaning is constructed in language and how it relates to human interaction. It also focuses on the implications of utterances and the responses that follow. Pragmatics is one of the most important areas of philosophy.

Pragmatism is a philosophical movement that views language and thought as tools for prediction, problem solving and action rather than as reflecting or mirroring reality. Its most famous practitioners include Charles Peirce, William James and John Dewey. Its central ideas are based on the notion that most philosophical topics-including the nature of knowledge, language, concepts and belief-are best viewed in terms of their practical uses and successes.

A pragmatic person is someone who makes decisions based on what works, or more specifically what gets results. They are willing to compromise in order to get the result they want. They can think clearly under pressure and are not easily swayed by fear or emotion.

The word pragmatic comes from the Greek root pragma (meaning “thing done, thing fact”) and is related to the Latin praegere (“to try”). The first occurrence of the term in English was in 1611 when Sir Francis Bacon used it in an essay about theology and logic. He wrote: “It is a good practice to begin, in all cases, by asking what is the most reasonable way to arrive at the truth.”

In contemporary philosophy, there are many different ways of understanding pragmatics, but it has been generally classified into two broad models. “Near-side” pragmatics focuses on the resolution of ambiguity and vagueness, and the reference of proper names, indexicals and demonstratives. “Far-side” pragmatics, which was the focus of pragmatism in its classical period, includes more subtle issues, such as inference to the best explanation and Bayesian reasoning. It also includes some issues involving presupposition.

Early pragmatists shared a broadly epistemological view, which they called fallibilism. In the 19th century, this led to a split over whether pragmatism should be understood as a scientific philosophy that held a monism about truth (as Peirce did) or as a broad-based alethic pluralism (as James and Dewey did).

Later pragmatists such as Richard Rorty and Wilfrid Sellars have argued that pragmatism is compatible with various kinds of realism. A variety of liberatory philosophical projects-including those in feminism, ecology, Native American and Latin American philosophy-also look to pragmatism as their home. Quine, however, qualified his enthusiasm for parts of the classical pragmatist legacy and developed his own distinctively analytic form of pragmatism. Today, scholars in informal logic and rhetoric, philosophy of mathematics and philosophical anthropology continue to explore pragmatism and its implications. The intellectual centre of gravity, however, has been shifting to South America and Scandinavia, as well as China. This is reflected in the growing number of journals and conferences focused on pragmatics.