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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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The News-Press
Sun, 27 Jul 2014 21:07:30 -0700

The number of nurses in Florida continues to grow, but experts worry that there won't be enough of them replacing their quickly aging peers over the next decade. A Florida Center for Nursing survey found that the number of registered nurses increased ...
Sun, 27 Jul 2014 22:20:00 -0700

The chief guest emphasized that good work needs to be continued and experiential knowledge in the company needs to applied more effectively so as to shorten the learning curve in stabilization of newly commissioned units and realizing the growth ...
Fri, 25 Jul 2014 08:22:30 -0700

Churches are invited to provide a range of inputs, including papers, documents, perspectives, and intellectual and experiential knowledge. Participants can access the forum through an e-consultation link where the content is available in English ...
Sat, 26 Jul 2014 12:14:57 -0700

But criticisms apart, the book is an extremely well written one and makes a great deal of sense if one were desirous of understanding the historical and structural issues plaguing contemporary Pakistan. Despite lacking in first-hand experiential ...
The New Indian Express
Fri, 25 Jul 2014 19:48:45 -0700

Director (operations) Umesh Chandra emphasised that good work should be continued and experiential knowledge in the company should be applied more effectively so as to shorten the learning curve in stabilisation of newly commissioned units and ...
Insurance News Net
Wed, 23 Jul 2014 08:22:30 -0700

Recognizing that awareness is largely a function of training, knowledge, competency, and culture, the model balances experiential knowledge against the detrimental effects of emergent inattentional blindness. This approach can enable improvements in ...
Lakewood Observer
Sun, 20 Jul 2014 06:41:15 -0700

... while also providing a framework of guidelines upon which we can build and improve over time as we acquire both experiential knowledge, as well as the input of residents, Lakewood's planning and land-use bodies, City personnel, and other stakeholders.

Hartwick College

Hartwick College
Thu, 17 Jul 2014 07:37:30 -0700

Fiske notes that Hartwick College "emphasizes study abroad," "crystallizing the school's philosophy that learning isn't about rote memorization, it's about creating experiential knowledge and developing skills." Fiske also cites Hartwick's "emphasis on ...

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