ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

What is Pragmatism?

Updated on November 20, 2009

Pragmatism is the philosophical attitude that the validity of an idea lies in its practical consequences. Pragmatism is the first American philosophy developed independently of European schools of thought. Pragmatists have agreed with traditional empiricists that ideas must be tested against experience. However, they have departed from the empirical stress on the origin of ideas in experience in order to lay a new stress on the effect of ideas in experience. Charles Sanders Peirce, who first used the word "pragmatism" in 1878 in the Popular Science Monthly, focused on the meaning of ideas, rather than on whether they are true. He held that an idea's meaning consists only of all the practical consequences it might have. Peirce changed the name of his approach to "pragmaticism" after his contemporary William James used the term "pragmatism" to develop Peirce's theory of meaning into a theory of truth.

James held that the consequences of an idea determine its meaning and that the truth of the idea can be measured by whether the consequences work satisfactorily in ordering a person's life. His pragmatic theory is sometimes expressed as "What works is true." James used the pragmatic approach in his theories of morals and religion and also in his influential psychological works. He consistently denied that he was undermining morals and truth by teaching a philosophy of sheer relativism.

Peirce and James were active into the early 20th century. Their contemporary John Dewey, who worked well into the mid-20th century, developed pragmatism into a theory of inquiry that he called instrumentalism. Dewey held that ideas are best thought of simply as instruments, or tools, that men use to inquire into and solve their problems. Dewey believed that most problems are basically social in nature. He particularly applied his pragmatic approach in social and educational theory. His ideas have been highly influential on American liberalism.

In addition to its American advocates, pragmatism gained a noted spokesman in the English thinker F.C.S. Schiller. He agreed basically with James' view that personal satisfaction measures the truth of an idea, but he insisted that this satisfaction is always relative to the individual and to circumstance. Schiller concluded that judgments of true and false, good and bad, and right and wrong can never be absolutely true.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • hazelbrown profile image


      9 years ago from Central PA

      Nice hub! I just took a grad class (religious studies) on pragmatism. A lot of people had trouble distinguishing between "what works is true" and moral relativism. I found it fascinating!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)