Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: pragmatism from Philip's Encyclopedia

Philosophical school holding the view that the truth of a proposition has no absolute standing but depends on its practical value or use. Primarily supported by US philosophers, C.S. Peirce first formulated pragmatism, and William James and John Dewey adopted and adapted it.

Summary Article: pragmatism
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(prăg'mӘtĭzӘm), method of philosophy in which the truth of a proposition is measured by its correspondence with experimental results and by its practical outcome. Thought is considered as simply an instrument for supporting the life aims of the human organism and has no real metaphysical significance. Pragmatism stands opposed to doctrines that hold that truth can be reached through deductive reasoning from a priori grounds and insists on the need for inductive investigation and constant empirical verification of hypotheses. There is constant protest against speculation concerning questions that have no application and no verifiable answers. Pragmatism holds that truth is modified as discoveries are made and is relative to the time and place and purpose of inquiry. In its ethical aspect pragmatism holds that knowledge that contributes to human values is real and that values play as essential a role in the choice of means employed in order to attain an end as they do in the choice of the end itself.

The philosophy was given its name by C. S. Peirce (c.1872), who developed the principles of pragmatic theory as formal doctrine. He was followed by William James, who held that in vital matters of faith the criterion for acceptance was the will to believe, and who was the key figure in promoting the widespread influence of pragmatism during the 1890s and early 1900s. John Dewey in his works developed the instrumentalist aspects of the doctrine. In Europe, F. C. S. Schiller (1864–1937) and others took up the theory. The succeeding generation of pragmatists included C. I. Lewis (1883–1964), whose conceptual pragmatism involves the application of Kantian principles to the investigation of empirical reality. W. V. O. Quine has upheld the validity of some a priori knowledge, pointing out that mathematics greatly facilitates scientific research. Morton White extended Quine's ideas from science to all culture, arguing for a holistic pragmatism in which philosophers study entire systems of belief and synthetic and analytic approaches to truth are not separate. Richard Rorty has argued that theories are ultimately justified by their instrumentality, or the extent to which they enable people to attain their aims. Pragmatism dominated American philosophy from the 1890s to the 1930s and has reemerged as a significant element in contemporary thought.

  • See James, W. , Pragmatism and Other Essays (ed. by Perry, R. B. , 1965);.
  • Ayer, A. J. , The Origins of Pragmatism (1968);.
  • Thayer, H. S. , Meaning and Action: A Critical History of Pragmatism (1968, repr. 1981);.
  • Morris, C. , The Pragmatic Movement in American Philosophy (1970);.
  • Rorty, R. , Consequences of Pragmatism (1982);.
  • Clarke, D. S. , Rational Acceptance and Purpose: An Outline of a Pragmatist Epistemology (1989);.
  • Menand, L. , Pragmatism: A Reader (1997) and The Metaphysical Club (2001);.
  • Dickstein, M. , ed., The Revival of Pragmatism (1999).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article Pragmatism
Philosophy of Education: An Encyclopedia

The major classical American pragmatists are Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), William James (1842-1910), John Dewey (1859-1952) , ...

Full text Article Pragmatism
Reader's Guide to the Social Sciences

Bernstein Richard J. , Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis , Philadelphia : University of...

Full text Article pragmatism
Dictionary of World Philosophy

The United States philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (CE 1839–1914) introduced the term pragmatism in 1878 to designate the name of his theory...

See more from Credo