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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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24 news items

The Randolph Guide
Mon, 14 Apr 2014 09:27:43 -0700

This difference is paramount because only an experiential knowledge gives us the calm assurance we need to handle the stresses of life. It keeps us from fretting because we know that what we believe is true because it has been lived out. God wants us ...
Fri, 11 Apr 2014 03:52:30 -0700

The Rochester Police Department (RPD) recognizes that comprehensive data analysis is a key component to informed decision making but it must be balanced with experiential knowledge, existing constraints, and practical considerations. Workload model.
Wed, 09 Apr 2014 00:07:30 -0700

Five to ten years' experience in a communication environment. • Experiential knowledge of the national system of innovation will be an advantage. • Excellent writing skills (copy writing ability will be advantageous). • Excellent interpersonal skills ...
Tue, 08 Apr 2014 17:00:00 -0700

Seed brings a unique blend of industry expertise and creative vision honed by more than two decades of experiential knowledge in the direct response space. A forward-thinking expert in automated marketing and direct response advertising, Seed is a ...
PR Newswire (press release)
Wed, 09 Apr 2014 03:52:30 -0700

Scott brings more than two decades of proven, experiential knowledge in media planning and integrated marketing, with core specialties in digital marketing strategy, content generation and curation, website development, and sales and inventory strategy.
British Journal of Psychiatry
Tue, 01 Apr 2014 00:28:41 -0700

Six types of resources were utilised: social relationships, patients' decision-making ability, experiential knowledge, patients' individual strengths, recreational activities and self-actualising tendencies. Social relationships are a key resource in ...
New York Times
Tue, 25 Mar 2014 08:08:23 -0700

The other, subtler error I made — and continued to make for a long time afterward — was to suppose that translating experiential knowledge into fiction was a simple, straightforward, even banal business. For most writers, it actually takes a lot of ...

Guardian Liberty Voice

Guardian Liberty Voice
Sun, 06 Apr 2014 22:26:15 -0700

It is almost impossible to describe the nature of this deeper self from this point of view, but there are many who have experiential knowledge of their inner being. And this is how they describe it. When it comes to health care, a person is not just a ...

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