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Experiential knowledge is knowledge gained through experience, as opposed to a priori (before experience) knowledge: it can also be contrasted both with propositional (textbook) knowledge, and with practical knowledge.[1]

Experiential knowledge is cognate to Michael Polanyi's personal knowledge, as well as to Bertrand Russell's contrast of Knowledge by Acquaintance and by Description.[2]

A priori[edit]

In the philosophy of mind, the phrase often refers to knowledge that can only be acquired through experience, such as, for example, the knowledge of what it is like to see colours, which could not be explained to someone born blind: the necessity of experiential knowledge becomes clear if one was asked to explain to a blind person a color like blue.

The question of a priori knowledge might be formulated as: can Adam or Eve know what water feels like on their skin prior to touching it for the first time[citation needed]?


Zen emphasises the importance of the experiential element in religious experience,[3] as opposed to what it sees as the trap of conceptualization:[4] as D. T. Suzuki put it, “fire. Mere talking of it will not make the mouth burn”.[5]

Experiential knowledge has also been used in the philosophy of religion as an argument against God's omniscience, questioning whether God could genuinely know everything, since he (supposedly) cannot know what it is like to sin.[6] On the other hand, that God is omniscient squarely lays the foundation of experiential knowledge, lies at its roots and acts as the cornerstone of its theory: In the beginning. It would be impossible for God to relate to a mortal human being with only finite knowledge and capabilities to understand the concept of being God and being omniscient. Therefore, it could be argued that it is the epitome of experiential knowledge.


Writer Barry Lopez writes about experiential knowledge and how it relates back to the environment,[7] arguing that without experiencing nature, one cannot fully "know" and understand the relationships within ecosystems.


Carl Rogers stressed the importance of experiential knowledge both for the therapist formulating his or her theories, and for the client in therapy[8] - both things with which most counsellors would agree.[9]

As defined by Dr. Thomasina Borkman (Emeritus Professor of Sociology, George Mason University) experiential knowledge is the cornerstone of therapy in self-help groups,[10] as opposed to both lay (general) and professional knowledge. Sharing in such groups is the narration of significant life experiences in a process through which the knowledge derived thereof is validated by the group and transformed into a corpus that becomes their fundamental resource and product.

Neville Symington has argued that one of the central features of the narcissist is a shying away from experiential knowledge, in favour of adopting wholesale a ready-made way of living drawn from other people's experience.[11]


Helen Vendler has characterised Seamus Heaney's art as, in one respect, recording an experiential learning curve: “we are earthworms of the earth, and all that / has gone through us is what will be our trace”.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Philip Burnard, Counselling Skills for Health Professionals (2005) p. 64
  2. ^ Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (1954) Ch. 5
  3. ^ Dadid K. Reynolds, The Quiet Therapies (1982) p. 95
  4. ^ C. Cheng-Chi, The Practice of Zen (1951) p. 71
  5. ^ Quoted in Reynolds, p. 95
  6. ^ experiential knowledge
  7. ^ Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams (1999)
  8. ^ Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person (1961) p. 184 and p. 103
  9. ^ Burnard, p. 64-5 and p. 78
  10. ^ K. Humphries, Circles of Recovery (2003) p. 15
  11. ^ N. Symington, Narcissism (1993) p. 88
  12. ^ Heaney, quoted in H. Bloom ed., Seamus Heaney (1986) p. 174

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We need experiential knowledge of God because theories are impossible to lean on in dark days. The Holy Spirit led Rees Howells into a life of faith built line upon line, experience upon experience. We must learn to recognize the leading of the Holy ...


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“It is our conviction that his experiential knowledge in striving to prevent or totally eliminate corruption in Nigeria will offer significant academic benefit as a proceeding of the Emmanuel Onyechere Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe lecture series. “Also, the ...


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... and in this respect I strongly relate, that women will often (and certainly there are exceptions) be inclined toward a different mode of Torah study, one that emphasizes insight over argument, and experiential knowledge over abstract hypothetical ...

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The experiential knowledge the team has gives them a better understanding of what numbers are valid, and which may be biased towards mechanical ignorance of a hero. Goodman used the example of two other heroes whose public performance hasn't ...

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But they also recognized this as violence of the most insipid kind--reified academic and experiential knowledge presented as objective and neutral, fully vested in yet paradoxically disconnected from the everyday lived realities of people and power ...
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"They give real-world insight and transfer their experiential knowledge," she said. "Instead of philosophies, they translate actual experience. It does add an extra layer of credibility." For McAlindon, building that credibility has come from his work ...

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