Experience vs. Knowledge

In Book VI of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle delivers an intriguing example explaining the connection between practical knowledge and experience.

“This is why some who do not know, and especially those who have experience, are more practical than others who know; for if a man knew that light meats are digestible and wholesome, but did not know which sorts of meat are light, he would not produce health, but the man who knows that chicken is wholesome is more likely to produce health” (7, page 1802).

Another example of this connection is the ability to play music. Suppose one man learned or was taught everything there is to know about playing music, such as how to read music, which keys produce which note, etcetera, but had never actually touched the instrument; and another man had experience playing an instrument with little to no formal instruction and learned via practice. Which of these men would be the better musician? Clearly the second man would be the second musician.

This conclusion is due to the fact that people need experience and to learn through trial and error, rather than just being given knowledge with no application. The first man with only the pure knowledge would not have the physical capability to play an instrument that only comes with practice. People need the ability to try, fail, and learn from their mistakes. This leads to the statement that practical knowledge is far superior to pure knowledge, because knowledge with out any sort of experience or practice makes it difficult to apply in a real world setting.

2 responses to “Experience vs. Knowledge

  1. The analogy of the skill of the musicians is a great way to tie in the debate of whether practical experience or pure knowledge is more useful. Knowledge about a topic is perhaps useful in impressing people, but it may not provide any usefulness when it comes time to apply that knowledge. With experience, it converts the ideas in your head into new forms of knowledge that will result in an advanced understanding of pure knowledge. For instance, a person may know the notes of a beautiful piece of music, but if he does not know how to play it, can he fully appreciate the beauty of the music? I agree with your conclusion about the trials of the learning process and I hope it brings inspiration to those who do not have experience in a certain talent to dedicate themselves into studying a new skill to go beyond knowledge and experience learning for themselves.

  2. Thank you for your comment I think you brought up a good point! The part where you said, “can he fully appreciate the beauty of the music?” reminded me of what we have been talking about in the last two classes, with the knowledge of unchanging objects and knowledge of changing objects. Practical knowledge like learning to play an instrument through practice falls under the category of changing objects, since it draws from experience. However, the understanding of music theory and even the ability to appreciate the beauty of music like you said would qualify as unchanging knowledge. These two fall into the categories of theoretical wisdom (sophia) and comprehension (nous). What I find interesting that in order to understand music, appreciate its beauty, and physically being able to perform music you need to have the combination of unchanging and changing knowledge to be successful.

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