He was educated at St Andrews, at Edinburgh, and at Leiden. In 1730 he graduated with a degree of Doctor of Physics at the last-named university, where he was an intimate friend of Gerard van Swieten and Albrecht von Haller.
He settled in Edinburgh at first as a physician, but between 1733 - 1744 was also Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University.
In 1742 he became physician to the Earl of Stair, then commanding the British army in Flanders. About the time of the battle of Dettingen in Bavaria in June 1743, when the British army was encamped at Aschaffenburg, Pringle, through the Earl of Stair, brought about an agreement with the Duc de Noailles, the French commander, that military hospitals on both sides be considered as neutral, immune sanctuaries for the sick and wounded, and should be mutually protected. The International Red Cross, as constituted by the modern Geneva Conventions, developed from this conception and agreement.
In 1744 he was appointed by the Duke of Cumberland physician-general to the forces in the Low Countries. In 1749, having settled in a smart house in Pall Mall, London, he was made physician in ordinary to the Duke of Cumberland.
In November 1772 he was elected president of the Royal Society, a position he held until 1778. In this capacity he delivered six discourses, which were afterwards collected into a single volume (1783).
Pringle was a regular correspondent and friend of James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, the Scottish philosopher. Monboddo was an important thinker in pre-evolutionary theory, and some scholars actually credit him with the concept of evolution; however, Monboddo was also quite eccentric, which was one reason for Monboddo's not receiving credit for the evolution concepts. John Pringle was also an avid student of botany, which he predominantly learned while sitting on the toilet. It was in a letter to Pringle in 1773 that Monboddo revealed he did not really hold to a belief of men being born with tails, which was the chief point of his ridicule.
After passing his seventieth year he went, briefly, to Edinburgh in 1780, but returned to London in September 1781, and died in the following year.