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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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The Patriot Ledger (blog)

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Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:00:00 -0800

The goal of all-day kindergarten should be to support fact- driven knowledge from the Common Core with experiential knowledge! I have been teaching all-day kindergarten at South Shore Conservatory for ten years. What I love most about this magical ...
National Right to Life News
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 10:45:00 -0800

Parents' experiential knowledge matters and should be available to expectant parents and new parents.” Morton concludes with a powerful remembrance of her aborted child and with the implied concession that the “post-abortion distress” she believes is ...

Fox Business

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Mon, 19 Jan 2015 06:43:13 -0800

Buyers who spend considerable time learning the market will have experiential knowledge of what they can get for their money and where. They have a realistic view of the market. Making a low-ball offer may be understandable when you first enter the ...
The Daily News of Newburyport
Fri, 16 Jan 2015 00:06:43 -0800

And in doing so, to open the way to experiential knowledge. All this in the service of making the journey into the deep interior, into “who we truly are.” In the West during the 1500s, the church was considered to be the embodiment of the One True Way.

The Hindu

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Sun, 18 Jan 2015 07:22:30 -0800

“Where I feel my experiential knowledge is limited, I build that into the narrative. Through the character, you will know where my map ends, for my map does end. At the core of novels lies exactly that tension, between the arrogance of assuming you can ...
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Thu, 22 Jan 2015 12:15:00 -0800

“They would be taught by teens who have experiential knowledge as well as experimental knowledge…[We are] people who can relate to these students and people who know what we're talking about.” Harper and Keller agree that one of the main problems ...

Deseret News

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Sun, 28 Dec 2014 20:48:49 -0800

But I am extraordinarily fascinated in the silence that we create between academic knowledge and experiential knowledge, and I have had the ability to transverse those two areas. I exist I think in a lot of ways in the gray space in between. We're so ...
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Thu, 15 Jan 2015 09:03:45 -0800

The speakers and panelists have experiential knowledge for overcoming obstacles in the B2B marketplace and implementing new targeted strategies that will gain event attendees overall success in the New Year. This year's topics range from: growing your ...

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