[ prag-muh-tiz-uhm ]
/ ˈpræg məˌtɪz əm /
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character or conduct that emphasizes practicality.
a philosophical movement or system having various forms, but generally stressing practical consequences as constituting the essential criterion in determining meaning, truth, or value.
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Origin of pragmatism

First recorded in 1860–65; pragmat(ic) + -ism


prag·ma·tis·tic, adjectivean·ti·prag·ma·tism, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does pragmatism mean?

Pragmatism is a way of dealing with problems or situations that focuses on practical approaches and solutions—ones that will work in practice, as opposed to being ideal in theory.

The word pragmatism is often contrasted with the word idealism, which means based on or having high principles or ideals. Pragmatism, on the other hand, is based on real-world conditions or circumstances—considering what can realistically be done as opposed to the best theoretical course of action.

More specifically, pragmatism can refer to the philosophical movement or approach that emphasizes practical consequences in the determination of meaning, truth, or value.

The adjective form pragmatic means practical, especially when making decisions. The word pragmatist can refer to a person who prefers to act pragmatically, or to a philosopher who adheres to the movement of pragmatism.

Example: We need a candidate who values pragmatism and can get things done in the real world—not some idealist who will never compromise.

Where does pragmatism come from?

The first records of the word pragmatism come from the 1800s. It ultimately derives from the Greek pragmatikós, meaning “practical,” from pragma, meaning “act,” from prā́ssein, “to do.” The words practical and praxis derive from the same root.

People considered idealistic typically try to achieve the best-case scenario—the one based on their ideals. Such idealists are sometimes told they should try pragmatism, meaning they should focus on the realistic options or courses of action. Of course, many people navigate life with a balance of pragmatism and idealism: sometimes they compromise, and sometimes they stick to their principles no matter what.

Pragmatism isn’t always contrasted with idealism. Sometimes, it’s just used to refer to a practical, logical, or sensible way of doing things.

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What are some other forms related to pragmatism?

What are some words that share a root or word element with pragmatism

What are some words that often get used in discussing pragmatism?

How is pragmatism used in real life?

Pragmatism is commonly used in a positive way in the context of choices or actions that are considered practical and reasonable. It’s often used in the context of political positions or actions.



Try using pragmatism!

Which of the following words is LEAST like to describe an action that’s considered an example of pragmatism?

A. realistic
B. sensible
C. utilitarian
D. idealistic

How to use pragmatism in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for pragmatism

/ (ˈpræɡməˌtɪzəm) /

action or policy dictated by consideration of the immediate practical consequences rather than by theory or dogma
  1. the doctrine that the content of a concept consists only in its practical applicability
  2. the doctrine that truth consists not in correspondence with the facts but in successful coherence with experienceSee also instrumentalism

Derived forms of pragmatism

pragmatist, noun, adjectivepragmatistic, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for pragmatism


An approach to philosophy, primarily held by American philosophers, which holds that the truth or meaning of a statement is to be measured by its practical (i.e., pragmatic) consequences. William James and John Dewey were pragmatists.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.