“Pragmatic” vs. “Dogmatic”: What Are The Differences?

Some people have the incredible ability to set their emotions aside and make clear, calm decisions in a crisis. Instead of getting caught up in big-picture ideals or feeling overwhelmed by the scale of a situation, they manage to face the problem head on and address it practically one step at a time.

For those who don’t crumble under pressure, does this practical nature make them pragmatic? Or are they dogmatic because they are logical and able to get down to business?

In this case, the right word is pragmatic, and although these two words have similar definitions, they actually aren’t synonyms and can’t be swapped. Let’s dig a little deeper …

What does pragmatic mean?

As an adjective, pragmatic means “of or relating to a practical point of view or practical considerations.” It also refers to the philosophical movement pragmatism, which stresses practical consequences. Pragmatic can also mean “treating historical phenomena with special reference to their causes, antecedent conditions, and results,” as well as “relating to the affairs of the community.”

If you’re in a sticky situation, you need the help of someone who is pragmatic and who can remain calm enough to think clearly while making practical calls. This person doesn’t get stuck on big-picture ideals and emotions but instead can make decisions based on realistic, real-world circumstances.

However, when used as a noun, pragmatic is defined as “an officious or meddlesome person.” Even though this is more of an archaic sense of the term, it can insinuate that someone is overbearing and only plays by the rules.

And then there’s also pragmatic sanction, which is “any one of various imperial decrees with the effect of fundamental law.”

The word pragmatic was first recorded sometime around 1580–90. It is ultimately derived from the Greek word prâgma (“deed; state business”). Synonyms for pragmatic include businesslike, down-to-earth, efficient, hardheaded, logical, practical, realistic, and sober.

What does dogmatic mean?

Dogmatic is an adjective that’s defined as “relating to or of the nature of a dogma or dogmas or any strong set of principles concerning faith, morals, etc., as those laid down by a church; doctrinal.” For example, each week her preacher delivers dogmatic sermons that incorporate relevant current events.

Someone who is dogmatic lives by a certain set of principles they follow. However, dogmatic can also have a negative connotation, as it also means “asserting opinions in a doctrinaire or arrogant manner; opinionated.” Therefore, this dogmatic person might look down on others who don’t live according to those same morals. They might be intolerant to other beliefs. For example, he could never win a fight with his dogmatic brother, who never stopped arguing long enough to consider anyone else’s point of view. 

This word was first recorded around 1595–1605. It’s derived from the Greek word dogma (“opinion, tenet”). Some synonyms for dogmatic include arbitrary, arrogant, assertive, obstinate, and stubborn.

What are the differences between pragmatic and dogmatic?

In many cases, pragmatic is all about being practical while dogmatic refers to someone sticking to certain rules. Dogmatic people or things can also be arbitrary or intolerant since they revolve around specific morals or thinking while those who are pragmatic stick to what’s matter of fact.

For example: when voting for the next president of the United States, many take into account who is the most pragmatic candidate when casting their vote. In a time of national emergency or war, voters will ask themselves who is the most equipped to remain calm and think logically instead of being swayed by fear or heightened emotions. However a dogmatic candidate wouldn’t be as appealing to a wide base if their beliefs aren’t held by the majority.

Here are a few more examples:

  • His mom makes dogmatic decisions based on her strict morale code and often looks down on her husband, who has a more pragmatic way of thinking.
  • She is such a pragmatic thinker that when anyone tries to talk about hypothetical situations, she struggles with these big-picture theories.

Now that you’ve learned the differences between these two terms, test yourself on some more commonly confused words:

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