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Pragmatism: what is and what does this philosophical current propose

Pragmatism: what is and what does this philosophical current propose

June 24, 2021

Pragmatism is the philosophical stance that defends that a philosophical and scientific knowledge can only be considered true in terms of its practical consequences. This position emerges between the cultural atmosphere and the metaphysical concerns of American intellectuals in the nineteenth century, and reached its peak within the philosophical currents that reacted to positivism.

Currently, pragmatism is a concept widely used and extended not only in philosophy, but in many areas of social life, even begins to be identified as a philosophical attitude, with which we can say that its postulates have been transformed and applied many different ways Next we will make a very general review of its history and some key concepts.

  • Related article: "How are Psychology and Philosophy alike?"

What is pragmatism?

Pragmatism is a philosophical system that emerged formally in 1870 in the United States and, broadly speaking, proposes that only knowledge that has a practical use is valid .

It is developed mainly under the proposals of Charles Sanders Peirce (who is considered the father of pragmatism), William James and later John Dewey. Pragmatism is also influenced by the knowledge of Chauncey Wright, as well as by the postulates of Darwinian theory and English utilitarianism.

When the 20th century arrived, its influence declined in an important way. Nevertheless, it returned to gain popularity towards the decade of 1970, of the hand of authors like Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam and Robert Brandom; as well as Philip Kitcher and How Price, who have been recognized as the "New pragmatists".

Some key concepts

Over time we have used many tools to ensure that we can adapt to the environment and that we can make use of its elements (that is, survive).

Undoubtedly, many of these tools have emerged from philosophy and science. Precisely, pragmatism suggests that the main task of philosophy and science should be generate knowledge that is practical and useful to such purposes.

In other words, the maxim of pragmatism is that hypotheses should be drawn in accordance with what would be their practical consequences. This suggestion has had repercussions in more specific concepts and ideas, for example, in the definition of 'truth', in how to delimit the starting point of research, and in the understanding and importance of our experiences.

The truth

What pragmatism does is to stop paying attention to the substance, the essence, the absolute truth or the nature of the phenomena, to attend to their practical results. Thus, scientific and philosophical thinking they are no longer intended to know metaphysical truths , but generate the necessary tools so that we can make use of what surrounds us and adapt to it according to what is considered appropriate.

In other words, thinking is only valid when it is useful to ensure the conservation of certain ways of life, and serves to guarantee that we will have the necessary tools to adapt to them. Philosophy and scientific knowledge have a main purpose: detect and satisfy needs .

In this way, the content of our thoughts is determined by the way we use them. All the concepts that we build and use are not an infallible representation about the truth, but we find them true a posteriori, once they have served us for something.

In contrast to other proposals of philosophy (especially Cartesian skepticism that doubted the experience for relying fundamentally on the rational), pragmatism raises an idea of ​​truth that is not substantial, essential or rational , but exists in so far as it is useful to conserve lifestyles; issue that is reached through the field of experience.

The experience

Pragmatism questions the separation that modern philosophy has made between cognition and experience. He says that experience is a process by which we obtain information that helps us recognize our needs. That's why pragmatism it has been considered in some contexts as a form of empiricism .

Experience is what gives us material to create knowledge, but not because it contains a special information by itself, but we acquire that information when we come into contact with the outside world (when we interact and experience it).

Thus, our thinking is constructed when we experience things that we assume are caused by external elements, but that actually acquire meaning only when we perceive them through our senses. Who experiences is not a passive agent that only receives external stimuli, is rather an active agent that interprets them.

From here, one of the criticisms of pragmatism has been derived: for some it seems to maintain a skeptical stance towards the events of the world.

The investigation

In line with the two previous concepts, pragmatism holds that the center of epistemological concerns should not be to demonstrate how knowledge or absolute truth about a phenomenon is acquired.

Rather, these concerns should be oriented towards understanding how can we create research methods that contribute to making a certain idea of ​​progress feasible . Research is then a communal and active activity, and the method of science has a self-corrective character, for example, it has the possibility of being verified and weighted.

From this it follows that the scientific method is par excellence the experimental method, and the material is empirical. Likewise, investigations begin with raising a problem in a situation that is indeterminate, that is, research serves to replace doubts with established and well-founded beliefs .

The researcher is a subject who obtains empirical material from experimental interventions, and proposes hypotheses according to the consequences that their own actions would have. Thus, the research questions should be aimed at solving specific problems.

Science, its concepts and theories, are an instrument (they are not a transcription of reality) and are intended to achieve a specific purpose: to facilitate an action.

Bibliographic references:

  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2013). Pragmatism Retrieved May 3, 2018. Available at //
  • Sini, C. (1999). The pragmatism. Akal: Madrid.
  • Jos, H. (1998). Pragmatism and the theory of society. Center for Sociological Research. Retrieved May 3, 2018. Available at //
  • Torroella, G. (1946). The pragmatism. General characterization. Cuban philosophy magazine, 1 (1): 24-31.

PHILOSOPHY - Language: Gricean Pragmatics [HD] (June 2021).

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