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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]


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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Fri, 12 Dec 2014 03:24:51 -0800

... gains traction, it is imperative that for the value it provides, practitioners around the globe will need more opportunities to exchange first hand, experiential knowledge of how to implement policies and programs that will advance their countries ...

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (blog)

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Thu, 11 Dec 2014 15:09:19 -0800

His values and commitments have inspired the Beloit College community to establish the Luke Somers'08 Memorial Fund to provide financial assistance to students pursuing study abroad opportunities that enhance their experiential knowledge of the world.
Thu, 11 Dec 2014 14:52:30 -0800

The fund will provide financial assistance to students pursuing study abroad opportunities that enhance their experiential knowledge of the world. Preference will be given to students seeking to gain understanding about the people and cultures of the ...

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“There are comics that you work with that remember what it was like to be in your place, and it's an experiential knowledge that is passed between generations,” she continues. “And I love it. It's super beautiful. You have to be respectful of the ...


Wed, 03 Dec 2014 10:38:24 -0800

Their experiential knowledge of fish distribution and abundance told them that with a few notable exceptions already addressed by strict regulations, groundfish populations are stable on the Oregon coast. Thompson is full of examples. “There's one spot ...

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That has been the Lakers' hope, although it was a clear secondary priority to giving Nash the time and space to come to grips with the undesirable end to his season—and almost certainly his career. Nash obviously has the sort of experiential knowledge ...
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Speak Out is clearly defined as a space where the confidentiality of your stories and identities are respected, and where your narrative and experiential knowledge are trusted absolutely. Speak Out should be a space where you are listened to, believed, ...

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For me, the learning never stops and I intend to continue to bring back this experiential knowledge to my own kettlebell club.” Bliffert's competition experience and progressive victories in the sport will, undoubtedly, continue to attract more ...

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