Knowledge vs. Experience: Which of these is education?

Meno questioned whether knowledge (teaching) and experience (practice) are mutually exclusive at the beginning of the dialogue. This dichotomy has me ponder, “What is the way to obtain the best education?”

Before attempting to answer the question, I will differentiate knowledge (teaching) and experience (practice). First of all, knowledge might be superficial in one’s mind because it is often proved by someone else’s studies. Thus, teaching is the same as spreading one’s experience to other individuals. However, acquiring knowledge from teaching does not secure the meaning behind it because one’s experience is something that cannot be transferred. On the other hand, trials create experience that are realistic because of the consequences one receives. To sum up their differences, knowledge exists in a blurry vision while experience lives with vivid images.

In order to weigh teaching vs. practice, the issue of theoretical knowledge vs. practical knowledge is considered. The former is obtained from reading formal writings and listening to lectures, or so-called “book-smart.” Whereas, the latter is grasped by performing experiments and trial-and-errors, or so-called “street-smart.” According to the definitions above, they are completely distinct from one another, but share a common goal: personal improvement. Similarly, education is about acquiring and applying existing knowledge to increase overall human intelligence. Thus, teaching cannot bring the best results, nor can practice. They have to work together in order to yield the best results. For instance, a surgeon should not be allowed to perform a surgery if she has no ideas where the heart is. At the same time, she should not conduct the surgery for someone’s life if she has no prior experience.

In conclusion, knowledge and experience are two different perceptions. However, their differences are blessings because they are the final missing pieces of the puzzle called education.






3 responses to “Knowledge vs. Experience: Which of these is education?

  1. I think you make an interesting point about how classroom knowledge must work in symphony with street knowledge, but I don’t necessarily agree with your depiction of knowledge as a “blurry vision” compared to experience as a “vivid image.” I think both can be “blurry” or “vivid” depending on how you learn and process information. Some people are excellent at receiving information via a teacher or book and internalizing said information. Others require the real life experiences you discuss to fully comprehend the information. I also don’t agree with your articulation of Socrates describing knowledge and experience as “mutually exclusive.” I believe he makes a distinction between the two about how both are very different concepts, but I don’t think he ever makes the claim they can’t be done together. Rather, I think Socrates is making the argument that knowledge is dependent on experience. In context of the discussion of good vs. bad, when Meno makes the claim that some people receive pleasure from doing “bad” things, Socrates determines that is impossible because although in Meno’s eyes that action may be bad, to the person conducting the action, the action must be good or he/she wouldn’t do it. Therefore the knowledge of what is good or bad is dependent on the experience/circumstances of that particular person. Finally, I don’t think you should exclude real life experience from teaching. You say that teaching “doesn’t secure the meaning behind it,” but teaching can often be a real life experience, just as Socrates represented when he taught the slave about the square. His form of teaching was to make the slave participate in a mental exercise, which is a form of experience and teaching.

  2. I agree with you for the most part, and I think that you write very well. I do believe that a complete education is facilitated by a combination of teaching and practice, and that teaching brings for the knowledge that serves as the foundation for practice and later experience; however, I do not completely concur with certain parts of your argument. First off, I do not think that true knowledge is superficial. I think that if we truly understand something, then we do really know it. It does not matter who taught us how to do something, or if the knowledge shared with use came from someone else. I do not believe that just because we did not come up with some theory or idea by ourselves that we cannot understand it. If what you are saying is true, then nothing can be taught and understood because only the people who invented the theories and ideas are the only ones who can know and comprehend them. Second, if we can only truly learn from our experiences not books and instruction, like you say, then ultimately we are only limited to know what we ourselves experience in life. This means that we can never learn from books or what we are taught in class because we did not experience the creation of such new ideas, etc. This very much narrows the obtainment of knowledge for mankind. Also, I do not think that knowledge and experience are as far apart from one another as you say. I believe that they are very similar operations and can be paired together in many situations for very thorough learning. For most people throughout their lives, teaching and knowledge serves as the foundation for practice and experience, and allows people to learn and understand information and then apply it to real-life situations, emphasizing the way in which the gap between the theoretical world and real world can be bridged.

    • I think that you did not fully comprehend what I wrote. I did not say that either knowledge or experience alone is sufficient for learning. For me, new knowledge is always superficial. Although you might understand the ideas behind books, you don’t truly understand them. Theories and ideas can be taught, but the ones who learn cannot truly appreciate its meaning and significance. That is why practice and experiments exist. The great thing about writing is the legacy that it leaves for the next generations. Think of it as a guidebook for us to foster our experience. That guidebook is knowledge. You do not truly “know” and “learn” something just with knowledge or experience. It has to be both.

Leave a Reply