The philosophy was given its name by C. S. Peirce (c.1872), who developed the principles of pragmatic theory as formal doctrine. He was followed by William James, who held that in vital matters of faith the criterion for acceptance was the will to believe, and who was the key figure in promoting the widespread influence of pragmatism during the 1890s and early 1900s. John Dewey in his works developed the instrumentalist aspects of the doctrine. In Europe, F. C. S. Schiller (1864-1937) and others took up the theory. The succeeding generation of pragmatists included C. I. Lewis (1883-1964), whose conceptual pragmatism involves the application of Kantian principles to the investigation of empirical reality. W. V. O. Quine has upheld the validity of some a priori knowledge, pointing out that mathematics greatly facilitates scientific research. Richard Rorty has argued that theories are ultimately justified by their instrumentality, or the extent to which they enable people to attain their aims. Pragmatism dominated American philosophy from the 1890s to the 1930s and has reemerged as a significant element in contemporary thought.
See W. James, Pragmatism and Other Essays (ed. by R. B. Perry, 1965); A. J. Ayer, The Origins of Pragmatism (1968); H. S. Thayer, Meaning and Action: A Critical History of Pragmatism (1968, repr. 1981); C. Morris, The Pragmatic Movement in American Philosophy (1970); R. Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (1982); D. S. Clarke, Rational Acceptance and Purpose: An Outline of a Pragmatist Epistemology (1989); L. Menand, Pragmatism: A Reader (1997) and The Metaphysical Club (2001); M. Dickstein, ed., The Revival of Pragmatism (1999).
Pragmatism generally considered to have originated in the late nineteenth century with Charles Peirce, who first stated the pragmatic maxim. It came to fruition in the early twentieth-century philosophies of William James and John Dewey and, in a more unorthodox manner, in the works of George Santayana. Pragmatists consider practical consequences or real effects to be vital components of both meaning and truth. Other important aspects of pragmatism include anti-Cartesianism, radical empiricism, instrumentalism, anti-realism, verificationism, conceptual relativity, a denial of the fact-value distinction, a high regard for science, and fallibilism.
Pragmatism began enjoying renewed attention from the 1950s on, because a new school of philosophy put forth a revised pragmatism which criticized the logical positivism that had dominated philosophy in the United States and Britain since the 1930s, notably in the work of analytic philosophers like W. V. O. Quine and Wilfrid Sellars. The concept of naturalized epistemology was further developed and widely publicized by Richard Rorty, whose later work grew closer to continental philosophy and is often considered relativistic. Contemporary pragmatism is still divided between work that is strictly within the analytic tradition, and a more relativistic strand in the wake of Rorty, and lastly neoclassical pragmatism (which includes philosophers such as Susan Haack) that stays closer to the work of Peirce, James, and Dewey.
As a philosophical movement, pragmatism originated in the United States in the late 1800s. The thought and works of Charles Sanders Peirce (like "purse") and William James (both members of The Metaphysical Club) as well as John Dewey and George Herbert Mead figured most prominently in its overall direction. The term pragmatism was first used in print by James, who credited Peirce with coining the term during the early 1870s. Prompted by James' use of the term and its attribution to him, Peirce began writing and lecturing on pragmatism to make clear his own interpretation. Peirce eventually coined the new name pragmaticism to mark what he regarded as the original idea, for clarity's sake and possibly (but not certainly) because he disagreed with James (cf. Menand 2001 on the former interpretation; below on the latter). He claimed the term was so ugly, nobody would be tempted to steal it (Haack 1998).
James and Peirce were inspired by the crucial links among belief, conduct, and disposition by saying a belief is a proposition on which a person is prepared to act. Inspiration for the pragmatists include Francis Bacon who coined the phrase "knowledge is power", David Hume for his naturalistic account of knowledge and action, Thomas Reid for his direct realism, Immanuel Kant for his idealism and from whom Peirce derives the name "pragmatism", Georg Hegel for his introduction of temporality into philosophy (Pinkard in Misak 2007), and J.S. Mill for his nominalism and empiricism.
A philosopher's general tendency is to push all views into either the idealist or realist camp, as well as William James' occasional penchant for eloquence at the expense of public understanding, resulted in the widespread but false characterization of pragmatism as a form of subjectivism or idealism. Many of James' best-turned phrases — "truth's cash value" (James 1907, p. 200) and "the true is only the expedient in our way of thinking" (James 1907, p. 222) — were taken out of context and caricatured in contemporary literature as representing the view any idea that has practical utility is true. William James writes: In reality, James asserts, the theory is a great deal more subtle. (See Dewey 1910 for a 'FAQ')
The view beliefs must represent reality to be true is widely disagreed in pragmatism – "Copying is one (and only one) genuine mode of knowing" says James (James 1907, p. 91) – and is argued beliefs are dispositions which qualify as true or false depending on how helpful they prove in inquiry and in action. It is only in the struggle of intelligent organisms with the surrounding environment theories acquire meaning, and only with a theory's success in this struggle it becomes true. However, in pragmatism, nothing practical or useful is held, nor anything which helps to survive merely in the short term, as necessarily true. For example, to believe my cheating spouse is faithful may help me feel better now, but it is certainly not useful from a more long-term perspective because it doesn't accord with the facts (and is therefore not true).
(1) Mutability of truth
One major difference within pragmatism about the definition of 'truth' is the question of whether beliefs can pass from being true to being untrue and back. For James, beliefs are not true until they have been made true by verification. James believed propositions become true over the long term through proving their utility in a person's specific situation. The opposite of this process is not falsification, but rather a belief ceasing to be a "live option." F.C.S. Schiller, on the other hand, very clearly asserted that beliefs could pass into and out of truth situationally. Schiller held that truth was relative to specific problems. If I want to know how to return home safely, the true answer will be whatever is useful to solving that problem. Later on, when faced with a different problem, what I came to believe when faced with the earlier problem may now be false. As my problems change and as the most useful way to solve a problem shifts, so does the property of truth.
C.S. Peirce thought the idea that beliefs could be true at one time but false at another (or true for one person but false for another) was one of the "seeds of death by which James allowed his pragmatism to become "infected." Peirce avoided this position because he took the pragmatic theory to imply that theoretical claims should be tied to verification practices (i.e. they should be subject to test), not that they should be tied to our specific problems or life needs. Truth is defined, for Peirce, as what would be the ultimate outcome (not any outcome in real time) of inquiry by a (usually scientific) community of investigators. John Dewey, while agreeing broadly with this definition, also characterized truthfulness as a species of the good: to state that something is true means stating that it is trustworthy or reliable and will remain so in every conceivable situation. Both Peirce and Dewey clearly connect the definitions of truth and warranted assertability. Hilary Putnam also developed his internal realism around the idea that a belief is true if it is ideally epistemically justified. About James' and Schiller's account, Putnam says this:
Rorty has also weighed in against James and Schiller:
(2) Conceptual Relativity
Part of what James and Schiller mean by the phrase 'making truth' is their idea that we make things true by verifying them. This sense of 'making truth' has not been adopted by many other pragmatists. However, there is another sense to this phrase that nearly all pragmatists do adopt. It is the idea that there can be no truths without a conceptual scheme to express those truths. That is,
F.C.S. Schiller used the analogy of a chair to make clear what he meant by the phrase that truth is made: just as a carpenter makes a chair out of existing materials and doesn't create it out of nothing, truth is a transformation of our experience but that doesn't imply reality is something we're free to construct or imagine as we please.
In "The Fixation of Belief" (1877), C.S. Peirce denied that introspection and intuition (staple philosophical tools at least since Descartes) were valid methods for philosophical investigation. He argued that intuition could lead to faulty reasoning, e.g. when we reason intuitively about infinity. Furthermore, introspection does not give privileged access to knowledge about the mind - the self is a concept that is derived from our interaction with the external world and not the other way around. (De Waal 2005, pp. 7-10) By the time of his Harvard Lectures in 1903, however, he had become convinced that pragmatism and epistemology in general could not be derived from principles of psychology: what we do think is too different from what we should think. This is an important point of disagreement with most other pragmatists, who advocate a more thorough naturalism and psychologism.
Richard Rorty expanded on these and other arguments in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature in which he criticized attempts by many philosophers of science to carve out a space for epistemology that is entirely unrelated to - and sometimes thought of as superior to - the empirical sciences. W.V. Quine, instrumental in bringing naturalized epistemology back into favor with his essay Epistemology Naturalized (Quine 1969), also criticized 'traditional' epistemology and its "Cartesian dream" of absolute certainty. The dream, he argued, was impossible in practice as well as misguided in theory because it separates epistemology from scientific inquiry.
One of C.I. Lewis' main arguments in Mind and the World Order: Outline of a Theory of Knowledge was that science does not merely provide a copy of reality but must work with conceptual systems and that those are chosen for pragmatic reasons, that is, because they aid inquiry. Lewis' own development of multiple modal logics is a case in point. Lewis is sometimes called a 'conceptual pragmatist' because of this. (Lewis 1929)
Another development is the cooperation of logical positivism and pragmatism in the works of Charles W. Morris and Rudolph Carnap. The influence of pragmatism on these writers is mostly limited to the incorporation of the pragmatic maxim into their epistemology. Pragmatists with a broader conception of the movement don't often refer to them.
W. V. Quine's paper "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," published 1951, is one of the most celebrated papers of twentieth-century philosophy in the analytic tradition. The paper is an attack on two central tenets of the logical positivists' philosophy. One is the distinction between analytic truths, statements which are true simply in value of the meanings of their words ('all bachelors are unmarried'), and synthetic truths, which are grounded in empirical fact. The other is reductionism, the theory that each meaningful statement gets its meaning from some logical construction of terms which refers exclusively to immediate experience. Quine's argument brings to mind Peirce's insistence that axioms aren't a priori truths but synthetic statements.
Whereas F.C.S. Schiller actually dismissed the possibility of formal logic, most pragmatists are critical rather of its pretension to ultimate validity and see logic as one logical tool among others - or perhaps, considering the multitude of formal logics, one set of tools among others. This is the view of C.I. Lewis. C.S. Peirce developed multiple methods for doing formal logic.
Stephen Toulmin's The Uses of Argument inspired scholars in informal logic and rhetoric studies (although it is actually an epistemological work).
William James gives an interesting example of this philosophical shortcoming:
F.C.S. Schiller's first book, "Riddles of the Sphinx", was published before he became aware of the growing pragmatist movement taking place in America. In it, Schiller argues for a middle ground between materialism and absolute metaphysics. The result of the split between these two explanatory schemes that are comparable to what William James called tough-minded empiricism and tender-minded rationalism, Schiller contends, is that mechanicistic naturalism cannot make sense of the "higher" aspects of our world (freewill, consciousness, purpose, universals and some would add God), while abstract metaphysics cannot make sense of the "lower" aspects of our world (the imperfect, change, physicality). While Schiller is vague about the exact sort of middle ground he is trying to establish, he suggests metaphysics as a tool that can aid inquiry and is only valuable insofar as it actually does help in explanation.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Stephen Toulmin argued that the need to distinguish between reality and appearance only arises within an explanatory scheme and therefore that there is no point in asking what 'ultimate reality' consists of. More recently, a similar idea has been suggested by the postanalytical philosopher Daniel Dennett, who argues that anyone who wants to understand the world has to adopt the intentional stance and acknowledge both the 'syntactical' aspects of reality (i.e. whizzing atoms) and its emergent or 'semantic' properties (i.e. meaning and value).
Radical Empiricism gives interesting answers to questions about the limits of science if there are any, the nature of meaning and value and the workability of reductionism. These questions feature prominently in current debates about the relationship between religion and science, where it is often assumed - most pragmatists would disagree - that science degrades everything that is meaningful into 'merely' physical phenomena.
Pragmatists disagree over whether philosophers ought to adopt a quietist or a naturalist stance toward the mind-body problem. The former (Rorty among them) want to do away with the problem because they believe it's a pseudo-problem, whereas the latter believe that it is a meaningful empirical question.
William James' contribution to ethics, as laid out in his essay The Will to Believe has often been misunderstood as a plea for relativism or irrationality. On its own terms it argues that ethics always involves a certain degree of trust or faith and that we cannot always wait for adequate proof when making moral decisions.
Of the classical pragmatists, John Dewey wrote most extensively about morality and democracy. (Edel 1993) In his classic article Three Independent Factors in Morals (Dewey 1930), he tried to integrate three basic philosophical perspectives on morality: the right, the virtuous and the good. He held that while all three provide meaningful ways to think about moral questions, the possibility of conflict among the three elements cannot always be easily solved. (Anderson, SEP)
Dewey also criticized the dichotomy between means and ends which he saw as responsible for the degradation of our everyday working lives and education, both conceived as merely a means to an end. He stressed the need for meaningful labor and a conception of education that viewed it not as a preparation for life but as life itself. (Dewey 2004  ch. 7; Dewey 1997 , p. 47)
Dewey was opposed to other ethical philosophies of his time, notably the emotivism of Alfred Ayer. Dewey envisioned the possibility of ethics as an experimental discipline, and thought values could best be characterized not as feelings or imperatives, but as hypotheses about what actions will lead to satisfactory results or what he termed consummatory experience. A further implication of this view is that ethics is a fallible undertaking, since human beings are frequently unable to know what would satisfy them.
A recent pragmatist contribution to meta-ethics is Todd Lekan's "Making Morality" (Lekan 2003). Lekan argues that morality is a fallible but rational practice and that it has traditionally been misconceived as based on theory or principles. Instead, he argues, theory and rules arise as tools to make practice more intelligent.
A notable contemporary pragmatist aesthetician is Joseph Margolis. He defines a work of art as "a physically embodied, culturally emergent entity", a human "utterance" that isn't an ontological quirk but in line with other human activity and culture in general. He emphasizes that works of art are complex and difficult to fathom, and that no determinate interpretation can be given.
It should be noted, from a general point of view, that for William James, something is true only insofar as it works. Thus, the statement, for example, that prayer is heard may work on a psychological level but (a) will not actually help to bring about the things you pray for (b) may be better explained by referring to its soothing effect than by claiming prayers are actually heard. As such, pragmatism isn't antithetical to religion but it isn't an apologetic for faith either.
Joseph Margolis, in Historied Thought, Constructed World (California, 1995), makes a distinction between "existence" and "reality". He suggests using the term "exists" only for those things which adequately exhibit Pierce's Secondness: things which offer brute physical resistance to our movements. In this way, such things which affect us, like numbers, may be said to be "real", though they do not "exist". Margolis suggests that God, in such a linguistic usage, might very well be "real", causing believers to act in such and such a way, but might not "exist".
Neoclassical pragmatism denotes those thinkers who consider themselves inheritors of the project of the classical pragmatists. Sidney Hook and Susan Haack (known for the theory of foundherentism) are well-known examples.
Not all pragmatists are easily characterized. It is probable, considering the advent of postanalytic philosophy and the diversification of Anglo-American philosophy, that more philosophers will be influenced by pragmatist thought without necessarily publicly committing themselves to that philosophical school. Daniel Dennett, a student of Quine's, falls into this category, as does Stephen Toulmin, who arrived at his philosophical position via Wittgenstein, whom he calls "a pragmatist of a sophisticated kind" (foreword for Dewey 1929 in the 1988 edition, p. xiii). Another example is Mark Johnson whose embodied philosophy (Lakoff and Johnson 1999) shares its psychologism, direct realism and anti-cartesianism with pragmatism. Conceptual pragmatism is a theory of knowledge originating with the work of the philosopher and logician Clarence Irving Lewis. The epistemology of conceptual pragmatism was first formulated in the 1929 book Mind and the World Order: Outline of a Theory of Knowledge.
'French Pragmatism' is attended with theorists like Bruno Latour, Michel Crozier and Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot. It is often seen as opposed to structural problems connected to the French Critical Theory of Pierre Bourdieu.
Ordinary language philosophy is closer to pragmatism than other philosophy of language because of its nominalist character and because it takes the broader functioning of language in an environment as its focus instead of investigating abstract relations between language and world.
Pragmatism has ties to process philosophy. Much of their work developed in dialogue with process philosophers like Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead, who aren't usually considered pragmatists because they differ so much on other points. (Douglas Browning et al. 1998; Rescher, SEP)
Behaviorism and functionalism in psychology and sociology also have ties to pragmatism, which is not surprising considering that James and Dewey were both scholars of psychology and that Mead became a sociologist.
Louis Menand argues that during the Cold War, the intellectual life of the United States became dominated by ideologies. Since pragmatism seeks "to avoid the violence inherent in abstraction," it was not very popular at the time.
Neopragmatism as represented by Richard Rorty has been criticized as relativistic both by neoclassical pragmatists such as Susan Haack (Haack 1997) and by many analytic philosophers (Dennett 1998). Rorty's early analytical work, however, differs notably from his later work which some, including Rorty himself, consider to be closer to literary criticism than to philosophy - most criticism is aimed at this latter phase of Rorty's thought.
Important protopragmatists or related thinkers
Pragmatists in the extended sense
There are several peer-reviewed journals dedicated to pragmatism, for example