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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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422 news items

The Guardian

The Guardian
Fri, 20 Mar 2015 01:31:43 -0700

What it should mean is that, first, policymakers need to take more notice of experiential knowledge than they are used to doing. And second, it is a powerful argument for more research on public states of mind in modern Britain – particularly more ...

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 ...


Sun, 22 Mar 2015 09:07:30 -0700

The experiential knowledge of the farmer was irrelevant at best; at worst, it was treated as « prejudice », and as an obstacle to the top-down implementation of sound scientific prescriptions from « experts ». In this view from twentieth century ...
The Source Weekly
Wed, 18 Mar 2015 11:56:15 -0700

Although her process could be considered methodical—scientific, even—Goodman-Campbell's work draws from the deep wellspring of her experiential knowledge of the Oregon landscape. "I hope to capture the incredible experience of seeing bird nests in ...
Camarillo Acorn
Thu, 19 Mar 2015 21:41:15 -0700

Daradics serves his industry with excellence by working with passion, commitment and enthusiasm. He has experiential knowledge of the real estate transaction process and market trends, and provides his clients and colleagues with win-win solutions.
Big Think (blog)
Mon, 09 Mar 2015 08:05:30 -0700

The researchers continued, writing that the participants' drop in confidence “shows that even a single recall trial can provide enough experiential knowledge to closer align confidence ratings with actual performance." This exercise has led Blake and ...

Mad In America

Mad In America
Sat, 07 Mar 2015 07:18:44 -0800

They have called into question traditional assumptions about differential 'knowledge claims' and developed arguments that highlight the valuable contribution of experiential knowledge. (See It's Our Lives: A Short Theory of Knowledge, Distance and ...

The National Interest Online

The National Interest Online
Wed, 04 Mar 2015 17:48:49 -0800

The People's Liberation Army Navy has, over the past decade, taken every opportunity to build its experiential knowledge about long-range, blue water operations. Navies can also lose this edge if they fail to keep up with a sufficient tempo of ...

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