How Does Pragmatism Differ From Idealism?

Pragmatism differs from idealism in its view that the value of an ideology or proposition is determined by its effectiveness and practicality while idealism is concerned primarily with the ideal or principal behind the proposition. The term idealism can, however, have several different meanings, but in most interpretations it refers to a focus on ideas, the imagination or the spiritual over the pragmatist view, which concentrates on existence as it is rather than how it should be. Pragmatists view the validity of a theory based on its results or consequences rather than its underlying ideals and antecedents.

The pragmatist view holds that inquiries into the nature of things and existence must begin "in media res," which is Latin for "in the middle of things." The point at which the inquiry begins is dependent upon historically determined and conditioned preconceptions. According to pragmatism, philosophy does not precede scientific examination, but is instead continuous with it. Philosophy should not rule from above, but rather draw out the explicit from the accepted standards of current best practice.

As a descriptive philosophical term, "pragmatism" first appeared in print at the end of the 19th century when William James used it in an address given at the University of California. John Dewey was a more recent proponent of pragmatism whose writings had a significant influence upon American intellectual thought for a great deal of the 20th century.