What is pragmatology?

Pragmatology is a word to describe a grounded and practical way to make sense of global complexity without being scarred by irrational argument. It is a smart and simple way to make sense of the modern world.

The adjective ‘pragmatic’ describes dealing with problems that exist in a specific situation in a reasonable and logical way instead of depending on ideas and theories… ‘down to earth’ covers it pretty well.

Pragmatism is actually a tradition in philosophy that began in the 1870’s around the idea that “the function of thought is as an instrument or tool for prediction, action, and problem solving”. Therefore the study of reason, the mind and most philosophical topics “are all best viewed in terms of their practical uses and successes

Pragmatism is about truth and justification but with an acceptance that there may be more than one way to arrive at these things. 

The ‘-logy’ suffix is used in both its common senses as ‘the study of a subject’ and as ‘a kind of speaking or writing’. It implies learning and communication. Not only do pragmatologists figure things out objectively, they talk and write objectively too.

So pragmatology is to study and speak with a practical lilt.

Characteristics of a pragmatologist

How would you know if you are already a pragmatologist or might be inclined towards being one? Here are some of the characteristics to look out for…

  • Comfortable with evidence in all its forms
  • Good at sifting the evidence to find where inference is real not implied [and must have an idea of what inference means]
  • Not afraid of probability theory or its application
  • Usually very good at reading a graph
  • A quiet fondness for enlightenment
  • An unhealthy obsession with lists
  • Insatiably curious but not easily persuaded
  • Calls themselves a skeptic
  • Knows that when the glass is half full it is half empty at the same time

Likes and dislikes of a pragmatologist

What the pragmatologist likes is...

  • The truth wherever it appears
  • Facts
  • Information in general
  • Occam’s razor
  • KISS, that is keep it simple stupid, not the heavy metal band
  • Straight shooters

What the pragmatologist dislikes is...

  • Spin
  • Most mass media
  • Bullshit artists and trolls…  egos in general
  • Most, if not all, politicians
  • Bean counters [ironically]

Why do we need pragmatology?

The world has become very complex and interconnected. 

It is much smaller than it was — I can buy Chilean olive oil in my local Sydney supermarket — and far harder to understand. 

Every day we are faced with dozens of decisions that not only affect our own lives but those of others. We are forced to answer many questions without enough information to truly trust our answers. For example, here is a question… 

Should I buy the Chilean olive oil? 

Now let’s assume that the quality will be good enough to justify the price that was less than half that of an equivalent oil from Spain or Italy. It turns out that Chile exports over 12 million liters of premium quality olive oil every year and its quality is high often with an acidity of .02% or less — reputably some of the best olive oil in the world. 

It’s a bargain, but I needed to know all that production detail before I knew it was one.

Clearly it has travelled a long way. Each bottle has some serious sea and truck miles and will have a hefty carbon footprint.

No doubt the supply chain is a long one. The grower somewhere in the rural mountains halfway across the globe sends his oil through multiple middlemen before it is purchased by the Australian supermarket chain and ends up on the shelf.  It is unlikely that such a long chain means the producer gets a reasonable price at the farm gate.

But then if I don’t buy Chilean, should I support a local producer with a shorter supply chain and unreliable quality or one of the European ones.

In the end it would really be all about taste. And I have no idea about that until I buy a bottle and drizzle some on my chicken and mango salad.

In the store, on the spur of the moment, it is hard to answer the question. I just take a punt or I don’t.

And yet I should think twice.

What I choose to do by design or by default also leaves a legacy on the world around me. Even in the little decisions make a difference.

We need pragmatology to help make all the little decisions, and the bigger ones.

› pragmatology

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