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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

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experiential_knowledge — Please support Wikipedia.
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The Hindu

The Hindu
Thu, 21 May 2015 03:07:30 -0700

Modi's China experience of the past augurs well for what India can achieve in China, and how effectively he utilizes this experiential knowledge may well make a big difference to whether his visit ends up yielding incremental advances in business ...

BMC Blogs Network (blog)

BMC Blogs Network (blog)
Wed, 20 May 2015 03:30:00 -0700

In our second installment to celebrate International Clinical Trials Day 2015, we hear from a European pharmaceutical company and patients involved in research in Canada and Australia, in what they think the single greatest development that will help ...
Prince George Citizen
Wed, 20 May 2015 10:48:45 -0700

It also hopes to create an "online information hub of academic, traditional and experiential knowledge on cumulative impacts." That diverse expertise will help produce an understanding of the cumulative and long-term impacts of development, said CCIRC ...
PR Newswire (press release)
Tue, 19 May 2015 10:26:15 -0700

PITTSBURGH, May 19, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Today Innovu, which empowers employers and their business advisors by integrating silos of employee benefits data to make informed decisions about their benefits portfolio, announced the formation of its ...
Portsmouth Daily Times
Fri, 15 May 2015 12:41:15 -0700

Each speaker spoke candidly, sharing a wealth of experiential knowledge and information to empower those in attendance with very critical tools to be effective when performing hospital and home visits to those who suffer with chronic illnesses, and ...

BU Today

BU Today
Wed, 13 May 2015 21:12:30 -0700

“But experiential knowledge and personal effort are the only way to make meaningful connections.…You can't learn passively.” The Metcalf Cup and Prize and the Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching, created in 1973 and presented at Commencement, ...
Aspen Daily News
Fri, 15 May 2015 03:07:30 -0700

The world seems doomed, because the huge civilization developed in Western society is dominated by shills like Sean Hannity of Fox News and Rep. Darrell Issa, neither capable of taking the truth outside of the millionaire realm in which their work is ...


Tue, 12 May 2015 08:25:20 -0700

Yet we know that in ordinary life, we place a particular value on such knowledge, hence the importance attached to first-hand and eye witness accounts. User involvement in social work research, of course, places a high value on such experiential knowledge.

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