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(prăg`mətĭzəm), 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. PeircePeirce, Charles Sanders
, 1839–1914, American philosopher and polymath, b. Cambridge, Mass., grad. Harvard, 1859; son of Benjamin Peirce. Except for occasional lectures he renounced the regimen of academic life and was in government service with the Geodetic Survey for
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 (c.1872), who developed the principles of pragmatic theory as formal doctrine. He was followed by William JamesJames, William,
1842–1910, American philosopher, b. New York City, M.D. Harvard, 1869; son of the Swedenborgian theologian Henry James and brother of the novelist Henry James.
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, 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 DeweyDewey, John,
1859–1952, American philosopher and educator, b. Burlington, Vt., grad. Univ. of Vermont, 1879, Ph.D. Johns Hopkins, 1884. He taught at the universities of Minnesota (1888–89), Michigan (1884–88, 1889–94), and Chicago (1894–1904) and at
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 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. QuineQuine, W. V.
(Willard Van Orman Quine) , 1908–2000, American philosopher and mathematical logician, b. Akron, Ohio, grad. Oberlin, 1930. He studied at Harvard (Ph.D., 1932) under Alfred North Whitehead and in Europe, where he was influenced by Rudolf Carnap.
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 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 RortyRorty, Richard,
1931–2007, American philosopher. b. New York City. After studying at the Univ. of Chicago (B.A. 1949, M.A. 1952) and Yale (Ph.D. 1956), Rorty taught philosophy at Wellesley College (1958–61) and Princeton (1961–82), humanities at the Univ.
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 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 W. James, Pragmatism and Other Essays (ed. by R. B. Perry, 1965); A. J. Ayer, The Origins of Pragmatism (1968); H. S. Thayer, Meaning and Action: A Critical History of Pragmatism (1968, repr. 1981); C. Morris, The Pragmatic Movement in American Philosophy (1970); R. Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (1982); D. S. Clarke, Rational Acceptance and Purpose: An Outline of a Pragmatist Epistemology (1989); L. Menand, Pragmatism: A Reader (1997) and The Metaphysical Club (2001); M. Dickstein, ed., The Revival of Pragmatism (1999).


a philosophical approach which embraces the work of a number of US philosophers, including C. S. Peirce (1839-1914), William JAMES and John DEWEY. Its central doctrine is that the meaning, and ultimately the TRUTH, of a concept or proposition relates merely to its practical effects. Thus for Peirce, scientific hypotheses should be judged by the testable deductions they permit, as well as by their simplicity capacity to cope with new evidence, etc. For William James, ideas become true only in so far as they help us to interrelate our experiences. In at least some of their forms, CONVENTIONALISM and ‘instrumentalism’ are related doctrines to pragmatism; in all three, scientific laws and theories tend to be seen as principles which guide our actions, rather than as literal descriptions of the world. Similarities also exist with modern philosophical notions that all theories are ‘underdetermined’ by evidence, and that other criteria than ‘empirical fit’ are involved in our decisions about theories.



a subjective idealist philosophical doctrine. Pragmatism developed in the USA during the 1870’s and reached the peak of its popularity prior to World War II (1939–45), exerting a very powerful influence on the country’s entire culture. The basic ideas of pragmatism were expressed by C. Peirce. Later, the doctrine was elaborated by W. James, J. Dewey, and G. H. Mead. Pragmatism also had adherents in Great Britain (F. C. S. Schiller) and other countries.

According to the pragmatists, all previous philosophy, as well as the absolute idealism of F. Bradley and J. Royce, which prevailed in British and American universities at that time, was divorced from life, abstract, and passively contemplative. Having thus accused its predecessors, pragmatism presented a program for “reconstruction in philosophy.” Philosophy should be not speculation about first principles of being and knowledge, as it had been since Aristotle, but a general method for solving problems that confront people in various (“problematic”) life situations or in the course of their activities, which take place in an incessantly changing world. Adhering to the tradition of subjective idealist empiricism, pragmatism equates all of the reality surrounding man with “experience”, which is not reduced to sensory perceptions but is understood as “all that which is experienced” (Dewey)—that is, as any of the content of consciousness, as “the stream of consciousness” (James).

In its subjective idealist empiricism, pragmatism is related to Machism, and in its irrationalist tendency, to the teachings of the French philosopher H. Bergson. According to pragmatism, experience is never given to us initially as something definite. All objects of cognition are given form by our cognitive efforts to solve the problems of life. Making use of a one-sided interpretation of Darwin’s ideas, pragmatism regards thinking merely as a means by which the organism adapts to the environment, for the purpose of effective action. The function of thought does not consist in cognition as a reflection of objective reality or in a corresponding orientation for activity, but in overcoming doubt, which hinders action (Peirce), and in choosing the means necessary for attaining an aim (Janies) or solving a “problematic situation” (Dewey). Ideas, concepts, and theories are merely instruments or plans for action, and their significance is reduced to possible practical consequences by the basic doctrine of pragmatism (the “Peirce principle”). Accordingly, “truth is defined as utility” (J. Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, Boston, 1957, p. 157), or as the workability of ideas. This definition of truth—the most characteristic and most odious doctrine of pragmatism—leads to an absolutization of the role of success and the transformation of success into not only the sole criterion of the truth of ideas but also the very content of the concept of truth.

James made direct use of the pragmatic theory of truth to justify religious faith: “If the hypothesis of God works satisfactorily, it is true” {Pragmatizm, St. Petersburg, 1910, p. 182).

V. I. Lenin wrote: “Pragmatism ridicules the metaphysics both of materialism and idealism, acclaims experience and only experience, recognizes practice as the only criterion, … and … successfully deduces from all this a God for practical purposes and only for practical purposes, without any metaphysics, and without transcending the bounds of experience” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5 ed., vol. 18, p. 363, note).

The sociopolitical applications of pragmatism have invariably served the apologetic aim of justifying political acts that help to reinforce the existing order.

In the late 1930’s the influence of pragmatism in American philosophy began to decline. With the immigration of a number of European philosophers, other philosophical trends gained popularity. However, although it is no longer the leading philosophical school, pragmatism has continued to exert an influence on the solution of many problems in methodology and logic (the work of W. Quine, C. I. Lewis, N. Goodman, and E. Nagel, for example). To a considerable degree, pragmatism dictates the style of political thinking in the USA. A pragmatic conception of practical experience is used by right-wing revisionists (especially those associated with the Yugoslav journal Praxis) to distort the Marxist understanding of practice and to struggle against the Leninist theory of reflection.


Wells, H. K. Pragmatizm—filosofiia imperializma. Moscow, 1955. (Translated from English.)
Bogomolov, A. S. Anglo-amerikanskaia burzhuaznaia filosofiia epokhi imperializma. Moscow, 1964.
Mel’vil’, Iu. K. Charles Pirs i pragmatizm. Moscow, 1968.
Hill, T. E. Sovremennye teorii poznaniia. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from English.)
Sovremennaia burzhuaznaia filosofiia. Moscow, 1972.
Moore, E. C. American Pragmatism: Peirce, James, and Dewey. New York, 1961.
Morris, C. W. The Pragmatic Movement in American Philosophy. New York, 1970.
Thayer, H. S. Meaning and Action: A Study of American Pragmatism. New York, 1973.



a. the doctrine that the content of a concept consists only in its practical applicability
b. the doctrine that truth consists not in correspondence with the facts but in successful coherence with experience
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