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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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428 news items

The Guardian

The Guardian
Sun, 01 Mar 2015 09:00:33 -0800

The reality of this infuriating advice was that you could almost never leave the hospital or its library, but the point about experiential knowledge was well made. Of course, the deepest form of experiential knowledge for a doctor is to become a ...
Alabama Baptist
Fri, 27 Feb 2015 13:56:15 -0800

To earn PLA credit, qualified students document experiential knowledge or occupational training equivalent to a college-level experience through an extensive learning portfolio. Upon approval of the portfolio, students can earn up to 30 semester hours ...
Indie Wire (blog)
Mon, 23 Feb 2015 02:18:43 -0800

His arc, if you will (pun intended), comes to a crisis when his devotion to science is tested, and he's confronted with the limits of secular, experiential knowledge. Early in the film, Indy makes it clear that he doesn't believe in the legends ...

UA News

UA News
Tue, 03 Feb 2015 11:41:15 -0800

“As a nurse educator and president-elect of our local chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International, I am looking forward to gaining both theoretical and experiential knowledge from this opportunity,” she said. “This will augment my ability to lead in ...
Modern Distribution Management (blog)
Tue, 03 Feb 2015 09:26:15 -0800

Protecting Your Knowledge Base – As experienced employees leave the workforce, they take with them a lot of experiential knowledge. Do you have a plan in place to make sure that knowledge gets shared with the up-and-coming workforce? Who's My ...

Barfblog (blog)

Barfblog (blog)
Mon, 02 Feb 2015 11:18:45 -0800

Households derived logics and principles about foodwork that represented rules of thumb about 'how things are done' that included using the senses and experiential knowledge when judging whether food is safe to eat. doug.jean.kitchen Overall, food ...


Sat, 31 Jan 2015 20:04:28 -0800

Our conversations revealed experiential knowledge of some of the burdens of leadership in Nigeria. One of these is mature public cynicism about leaders. Ezekwesili stated the conundrum posed by a public that assumes those in leadership positions “are ...
PLoS Blogs (blog)
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 ...

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