Philosophy of Pragmatism

03.05.2015 |

Episode #9 of the course “Brief history of Contemporary philosophy”

Originating in the United States in the early 20th century and developing throughout the US and Europe, pragmatism values what solves problems. There is no clear definition of what makes a philosophy pragmatic, but the idea of pragmatism ties together the writings of several key thinkers within the general theme that what is useful is most valuable. A pragmatist is less interested in abstract concepts than the practical application of those concepts into social solutions. To a pragmatist, when evaluating a philosophical theory, if it cannot be used to solve problems better than another philosophical theory, it should be disregarded.

Because pragmatism is a loose term that encompasses the work of several thinkers debating questions from different philosophical branches, a few names are known as the exemplary pragmatists, including psychiatrist William James, scientists Charles Sanders Peirce, and scholar John Dewey. Although it is generally thought James coined the term “pragmatism,” he credited its first use to Pierce. Each of these three great thinkers had his own interpretations and applications of other scientific theories that he incorporated into his overall philosophy of pragmatic problem solving; however, they all agreed that addressing earthly problems rather than eternal questions was the duty of the philosopher.

After Dewey, pragmatism has not maintained a generally strong philosophical presence, although its tenets have continued to appear in other branches of physical and social sciences. In general, the pragmatic maxim is used to evaluate the efficiency of a theory: “If one theory solves a problem better than another, then there is no reason to keep the lesser theory.”


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