What is Pragmatic Philosophy?


Pragmatic is a philosophy that – very broadly – understands knowing the world as inseparable from agency within it. It draws a vast range of interpretations from a variety of philosophers, including those who endorse scientific experimentation, those who reject ‘the facts’ as the only basis for moral judgement and those who argue that experience must be interpreted rather than represented.

The key ideas in pragmatism originated in discussions around 1870 at a Harvard group called the Metaphysical Club, and they were developed by Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) and William James (1842-1910). The two became major figures in the American philosophical movement, with their works having a considerable influence on American intellectual life for half a century.

In practice, pragmatism can be seen in three methodological principles: pragmatic language; productive assumptions; and the idea that all human experience is dialectic. These three principles, when applied throughout our doctoral research, can create a space for the exploration of how individual experience, knowing and acting are shaped through social interaction.

1. Productive assumptions: These are beliefs that are designed to maximize practical outcomes, even if they are not technically true. For example, the belief that “It is not possible to have more than two sons” may be a useful belief to communicate risk and morality to a child, but it is not technically true.

2. Pragmatic language: The ability to communicate clearly and concisely using a variety of words and expressions.

The ability to use language in a ‘pragmatic’ manner can be learned and inherited through the social environment. Someone who struggles with this skill may tell stories in an unorganized manner, talk about topics that are not relevant to the conversation, and may use inappropriate eye contact. Identifying a person with a pragmatic disorder early can help them increase their social acceptance and prevent peers from ignoring them in conversations.