Pragmatism as Ontology, Not (Just) as Epistemology: Exploring the full horizon of pragmatism as an approach to IR theory

Simon Frankel Pratt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
1180 Downloads (Pure)


This article is in many ways a pragmatist’s critique of pragmatism in international relations (IR), focusing on what practices scholars have engaged in by drawing upon pragmatism and how to resolve problems that become apparent in considering them. Scholars of IR have used pragmatism largely (though not exclusively) to examine issues of an epistemological or methodological nature, focusing mainly on pragmatism as a philosophy of science. Often overlooked, however, is that pragmatism is not just a philosophy of science, but a distinctive and in some respects quite radical school of metaphysics, and it implies a particularly flexible form of social ontology. I, thus, argue for broader horizons in pragmatist theory in IR. I criticize the overly epistemological or methodological focus of the existing ways many IR scholars have used pragmatism and discuss of how pragmatist social theory fits within existing scholarship in the field. Finally, I suggest how pragmatist social theory can contribute to ongoing IR research programs by dissolving the dualisms of agent and structure, realism and idealism, and normative and strategic action. In other words, as a coherent set of principles, pragmatism offers the foundations for a new movement in the study of international politics— indeed, such a movement has already begun, and I suggest that its horizons are particularly broad.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberviv003
Pages (from-to)508-527
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Studies Review
Issue number3
Early online date4 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016


  • pragmatism
  • constructivism
  • practice theory


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