I've read this here:

Empiricists see empiricism as a pragmatic compromise between philosophical skepticism and nomothetic science; philosophical skepticism is in turn sometimes referred to as "radical empiricism."]

And this here:

But if we can distinguish pragmatic, moral or legal reasons from epistemic reasons, then we will need to distinguish questions about what one pragmatically, morally or legally ought to believe, from questions about what one epistemically ought to believe.

On both quotations, the word pragmatic is used, I've already read on wikipedia and britannica encyclopedia about it, but they are mentions to an object with large number of properties and when I asked some friends in one forum, they said me I could understand it as "useful", although I have my doubts - it's a simple translation when I have two sources that tell me it's so extensive - I'm stuck with this word for some months, can you help me?

  • I think the primary confusion here may result from the use of "nomethic" science as a contrast to philosophical skepticism. If you don't know what the opposition is, it's hard to see the middle. I see empiricism as being closely linked to academic skepticism, especially that of Carneades.
    – philosodad
    Commented Jul 13, 2012 at 13:50

2 Answers 2


In context, pragmatism can mean different things. One would be related to the philosophical school of Pragmatism, the other would be closer to "practical".

In the context of the two quotes above, I would read the first one as being closer to "practical", Empiricists see themselves as occupying a useful middle ground between two idealistic schools of thought.

One difference between pragmatic and practical is in their antonyms. There is such a thing as something which is impractical, something that I intended as a realistic solution but that simply isn't. There is no such thing as being impragmatic, I am being pragmatic with my impossible and impractical solution, just misinformed. The antonym of pragmatic would be idealistic, which is when I cling to my impractical solution even after I know that it is impractical, not because I believe that it is practical but because it fulfills some other criteria like being aesthetically pleasing.

In the second quote, pragmatic is placed in contrast to epistemic. In this context, I think that the word epistemic is implying a radical skepticism. Epistemic concerns are concerns about the limits of knowledge--how we know what we know and what we know anyway. This is the well known keg-party problem: We may believe that the boundaries of knowledge deny certainty about the existence of beer (epistemic), and still behave as if we believe there is beer (pragmatic).

  • What would be the meaning of "pratical"?
    – Red Banana
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 13:39
  • @GustavoBandeira The definition I was thinking of was "useful", suitable for application.
    – philosodad
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 13:31

From Wikipedia:

Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition centered on the linking of practice and theory. It describes a process where theory is extracted from practice, and applied back to practice to form what is called intelligent practice.

In other words: pragmatism refers to the study of the practice, the formation of a practice theory, and the use of this practice theory on other practices.

It's like inventing a new cake recipe: you try to make the cake. When the cake is good, you write its recipe. And then, every time you make the cake again, you use the same recipe.

Generally, when people talk about "this is pragmatic", they are saying that it's something that works on practice, but it's a simplification from the complete theory (in the case of the cake's recipe, you don't know why you picked three eggs instead of two, but it works, so you do this way).

Sometimes it's useful to view things pragmatically. When the excess of information can actually prejudicate the study. But pragmatism is not always useful.

  • 2
    I think an important aspect of pragmatism is that some approach is not necessarily useful in different cases - it is useful in that precise situation... the opposite of this would be formal reasoning - finding out general principles that can be used in a wide range of situations (you "know" it is useful beforehand, because it is based in some theoretical principles) - for me this is abstraction... I found it a bit confusing, you saying that abstraction would be a pragmatic act
    – Tames
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 16:47
  • You are right. Abstraction picks a specific concept and transforms it on a more broad and generic concept. I'll edit my answer. Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 17:12
  • 2
    There is a standard use of pragmatism you might want to comment on: the pragmatism of Peirce and Dewey, picked up by, say, Rorty. The idea, for example and very roughly, that the truth of a belief is to be identified with its usefulness to the believer.
    – Schiphol
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 15:31

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