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Pragmatism: How to learn to avoid musings and take action

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Pragmatism: How to learn to avoid musings and take action

While other people are still hesitantly weighing the pros and cons of a decision, a pragmatist has long since moved into action. Pragmatism can therefore prove to be a valuable character trait. This is especially true in professional life. Nevertheless, acting too pragmatically also has its disadvantages. In the interpersonal sphere, pragmatists often have their difficulties.

Below you will learn what pragmatism is exactly and how you can become more pragmatic yourself.

What is pragmatism?

In simplified terms, pragmatism refers to result-oriented action. A pragmatist does what needs to be done without worrying about the details. Practical action is more important than theoretical reason. It is by no means unusual for pragmatists to deviate from common methods in order to achieve their goals.

Example: In most professions, employees must adhere to predefined work processes. However, if a pragmatist recognizes weaknesses in the operating system, he will deviate from the specifications on his own authority and solve the respective problem in his own and practical way. For this, he will not first seek the approval of his supervisor, let alone wait for feedback.

Commonly used synonyms for pragmatism are:

  • Factual
  • Expediency
  • Results orientation
  • Application-relatedness
  • practicality
  • Sobriety

Pragmatism: Definition from a philosophical point of view

According to philosophical pragmatism, the meaning of human thoughts is determined by the effect of practical actions. It should be noted that human knowledge is fallible (fallibilism). Accordingly, personal truth or conviction depends on the expected results of an action.

In the field of philosophy there are different definitions of pragmatism. We would like to present the three most common definitions below.

Meaning 1: According to Charles S. Peirce, the founder of philosophical pragmatism, the latter is a method of explaining concepts. Only what has been independently tested and proven in practical experiments is considered as fact.

Meaning 2: Pragmatism is considered as a general philosophical theory of experience, reality and knowledge. It should be noted here that every person experiences a subjective reality. What we perceive as knowledge and truth is changeable by new experiences.

Meaning 3: Pragmatism is synonymous with epistemology. According to this interpretation, reality, morality and rationality have no emotional component, but are to be regarded as sober facts.

pragmatism definition

The history of pragmatism

Pragmatism emerged as a philosophical current in the 19th century. It was the first American philosophy, which was particularly popular in the Anglo-Saxon world.

The term pragmatism was first used in 1898 in a lecture by the American psychologist and philosopher William James. He referred to the publications of the mathematician, logician and philosopher Charles S. Peirce from 1878, in which he placed the practical benefit of an action above theory: the most common basic idea of pragmatism today.

Peirce writes, among other things, that one is only able to interpret a concept correctly if one considers effects and practical references equally. The thought processes of Charles S. Peirce and William James were continued by the American philosopher and educator John Dewey and by the sociologist and philosopher George Herbert Mead.

For more information on Charles S. Pierce and William James, please see the following scientific elaboration.

The main representatives of modern pragmatism

In the German-speaking world today, pragmatism is primarily associated with consensus and coherence theory - also known as theories of truth. Pragmatism also plays an essential role in the field of modern media philosophy.

Among the best-known contemporary German figures dealing with pragmatism are the sociologist and social philosopher Hans Joas and the media philosopher Mike Sandbothe. The German philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin, a proven expert in the field of decision and rationality theory, advocates a "pragmatic humanism".

Pragmatic approaches are also used in international politics: Gunther Hellmann, a distinguished professor of political science, for example, applies the pragmatic combination of epistemology and action theory.

How can pragmatic people be described?

At first glance, pragmatic people often appear emotionally undercooled. After all, their focus is on results-oriented action. They regard the possible consequences of their decisions, especially in the interpersonal sphere, as secondary. The main thing is that the result is right: This is a simplified explanation of the mindset of a pragmatist.

A pragmatist does not dwell on useless musings. They are practical personalities who are not afraid of hard work. When a pragmatic person has decided to achieve a certain goal, he will immediately begin to put it into practice. He does not wait for reassurance from other people, nor does he depend on support.

For friends, family and work colleagues, dealing with a pragmatist can sometimes be difficult. On the one hand, this is of course related to the fact that the invariably practical action is equated with emotional coldness - which is by no means necessarily the case. Many pragmatists are misjudged in this respect.

On the other hand, pragmatists hold up a mirror to their hesitant fellow human beings in an unwelcome way. It can be quite frustrating to observe how the pragmatic friend or colleague successfully completes one project after another, while you yourself do not even know how and where you could start with the first step.

Is pragmatism a positive or negative trait?

Pragmatism is to be considered a positive trait that can pave your way to happiness and success in many areas of life. Pragmatists are not dreamers, but people of action. A certain amount of realism is also part of it. It is certainly not reprehensible to dream of a great career or to plan to spend your retirement on a yacht in the Caribbean.

However, pragmatic people know that great plans can easily be thwarted by external circumstances. Instead of dreaming of a miracle, they work with the resources they have and actively make the best of their current life situation. For this reason, pragmatic people are often very successful: They set themselves realistic goals that they can achieve with the help of their practical disposition.

Pragmatists weigh up what is really important for them in life. In addition, they are not afraid of doing unpleasant tasks. This gives them a decisive advantage in their professional life. They would rather get rid of an unpleasant task than spend hours debating whether it makes sense. Pragmatism therefore has a motivating effect.

The shadow side of pragmatism

Hardly any character trait is exclusively positive. This also applies to pragmatism. The greatest difficulties exist, as already briefly mentioned, in the interpersonal sphere. Pragmatists often have little understanding for the hesitancy of their fellow human beings. They do not understand what emotional blocks prevent other people from completing a task.

Consequently, it is no wonder that misunderstandings and friction can arise between pragmatically and thoughtfully inclined people. Especially when two such different characters have to work together on a professional project, things can sometimes get difficult.

How can I become more pragmatic? The 5 best tips

You tend to put off important matters? You would like to brood less and get into action faster? In this case, a little more pragmatism can't hurt. The following five tips can help you:

1. achieve maximum success with little effort

Pragmatists always think about how they can achieve the best possible result with the least amount of effort. Detach yourself from the urge to plan every work step down to the smallest detail. The fear of failure is often unfounded and is not infrequently related to low self-esteem. Pragmatically inclined people do not know such fears and (self-)doubts.

Put simply, there is also talk of the "courage to fill in the gaps". Instead of burdening themselves with useless information, pragmatists focus on the essentials.

2. minimize time robbers

Pragmatic people don't spend time on useless debates or other time-wasters. Observe yourself in everyday life and analyze on which ineffective activities you waste a lot of energy. For example, do you spend a long time on hold on the phone when you want to make an appointment (e.g., at the doctor's office)? A pragmatist would write an email.

3. work on your self-confidence

As already mentioned, pragmatism has a lot to do with Self-confidence to do. In order to be able to think and act pragmatically, it is therefore necessary to Strengthen self-confidence in a targeted manner. You can do this, for example, by looking at your past achievements: What have you already achieved? What are your areas of expertise?

You don't need reassurance from other people, and you don't need to spend hours researching your decisions. Trust your ability. You know what is right.

4. start small

Practice acting pragmatically on less important decisions first to gain some routine and confidence. If the latter works well, then venture further step by step. At some point you will succeed in making even elementary life decisions from a pragmatic point of view.

5. do not brood, but act

As simple as it may sound, the best way to learn pragmatism is to stop procrastinating. Just let theory be theory. Trust your intuition and act when there is something to decide. If you always think everything through, you can miss important opportunities.

Admittedly, this may take a little effort at first. However, the more positive experiences you have, the easier it will be for you to adopt a pragmatic approach in the future.

pragmatism meaning,

Examples of pragmatic action

What pragmatism really means is best illustrated by some everyday examples. Let yourself be inspired:

1. A craftsman is hammering in a nail and the hammer falls out of his hand. Since he is sitting on top of a scaffold, it would take a lot of time to climb down to retrieve the tool. Instead, the craftsman decisively takes off his steel-toed work boot and continues with his work.

Here we have two characteristics of pragmatism at once: the craftsman decides unconventionally, foregoing the use of a classic tool. In addition, the best possible result could be achieved with the smallest possible effort: The nail was hammered in without delay.

2. A pragmatically inclined student prepares for an important exam. He analyzes in detail what has already been learned and concentrates exclusively on the topics that will be tested according to the announcement. He has prepared practical flashcards for this purpose.

His thoughtful fellow student, on the other hand, wants to be prepared for all eventualities and, on the eve of the exam, pores over a new textbook on the exam topic.

He burdens himself with vast amounts of (sometimes useless) information, which increases his nervousness and prevents him from concentrating on the essential content of the exam. Ultimately, the pragmatist writes the better grade.

The fact that pragmatists are fundamentally more effective learners is even scientifically proven.

Conclusion: Pragmatism can be learned

Pragmatism is an extremely useful trait that can make your life easier in many areas. In professional life, pragmatists are often more successful than thoughtful character types. Instead of thinking through all eventualities down to the smallest detail, pragmatists summarily seize the opportunities that come their way. Pragmatists do not hesitate: They make a decision and act immediately.

A certain predisposition to pragmatism is certainly innate, but even a thoughtful person can work on his or her pragmatic abilities. This is primarily achieved by strengthening self-confidence.

Taking the proverbial plunge can also be helpful: Get into the habit of taking immediate action when a problem arises and no longer allowing yourself to brood excessively. As soon as you notice that you achieve success in this way, it will become easier and easier for you.

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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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