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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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27 news items

Washington Post
Fri, 22 Aug 2014 17:00:00 -0700

Adjuncts like me tend not to be credentialized with graduate degrees but are hired for our experiential knowledge in our professional, not professorial theoretical, lives. Recent years have seen efforts to deliver economic fairness for single-income ...
Canadian Underwriter
Thu, 21 Aug 2014 10:34:16 -0700

Fundamentally, because mature, seasoned workers have more experiential knowledge than younger ones, organizations need to promote knowledge transfer through a culture of learning, as well as programs like mentoring and coaching - and they need to ...

PsychCentral.com (blog)

PsychCentral.com (blog)
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 10:47:30 -0700

“The Way Forward,” a 2014 report by the Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force of the National Action Alliance on Suicide Prevention, outlines many ways to engage with those who have valuable experiential knowledge, in service planning, delivery, and ...
Charisma News
Wed, 13 Aug 2014 09:30:00 -0700

"Head knowledge" was tested and turned into "experiential knowledge." The faith of many people around me was strengthened after having witnessed the miracles that occurred during the crisis. Many relationships with friends and family were strengthened.
Wed, 13 Aug 2014 05:00:00 -0700

10-The Qur'an is anti-classical in its approach to knowledge, and stresses experiential knowledge, a fact which combines authentic science with authentic spirituality. 11-The Qur'an provides answers to questions that haunt every intelligent person ...

The News-Press

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 ...
Huffington Post
Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:08:02 -0700

Creating new pathways to service years has the potential to generate a catalytic opportunity both in helping young adults move forward in education and employment as well as build experiential knowledge to help impact communities. Service also fits ...
Sat, 09 Aug 2014 13:26:15 -0700

We incorporate endogenous knowledge of the community the experiential knowledge. On top of that we have included experimental knowhow on the practices of organic farming. Nature has greater power. The gap is on how to bend that power without ...

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