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The Importance of Being Experienced: An Aristotelian Perspective on Experience and Experience-Based Learning


‘The importance of being experienced’ plays a central part in the ethical philosophy of Aristotle. An experienced person is a person who has acquired a coping skill, an appropriate attitude and a sense of situation. According to Aristotle the soul and the body are interdependent, which indicates a close connection between human activity, human cognition and human character. By insisting on the primacy of action, Aristotle changes the educational focal point from an epistemological discussion of knowledge to an ethical discussion of practice. The paper discusses what Aristotle can offer contemporary education in relation to his understanding of experience. The frame of the discussion is organised according to the three notable elements that are contained in Aristotle’s notion of ‘the importance of being experienced’: a practice, an appropriate hexis or character and a sense of the situation. As a background for and framing of the discussion, the paper will outline some of the many variants as well as substantial differences of the notion of experience and experience-based learning and categorise them in three different understandings.

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  1. 1.

    Dewey considers the following three historical philosophical understandings of experience: the classic Greek notion of experience, which “identified experience with the beliefs and skills that were due to custom and consolidated memory” (Dewey 1960, pp. 78–79); the empirical understanding of Locke and Hume, which defined experience as consisting essentially of first-hand observation (ibid, p. 79); and the third conception which, according to Dewey is still ‘in process of development’, consists of the pragmatic understanding of William James (ibid, p. 86).

  2. 2.

    The influence is for instances seen in Schön’s theory of the reflective practitioner and in Argyrus and Schön’s ideas of a learning organisation (Schön 1983) and in contemporary educational ideas of project-oriented and problem-based learning (Argyuros and Schön 1996).

  3. 3.

    Aristotle uses the notion of the soul in a broader meaning than we give it today. In his perception, the soul represents the vitality or the ‘life-energy’ or in his expression: “for the soul is in some sense the principle of animal life.” (Aristotle 1941, p. 535).

  4. 4.

    The practical productive knowledge is in many of the quotations translated with art.

  5. 5.

    I have chosen to use the Greek terms because translation cannot successfully convey the correct meaning.


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Correspondence to Tone Saugstad.

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Saugstad, T. The Importance of Being Experienced: An Aristotelian Perspective on Experience and Experience-Based Learning. Stud Philos Educ 32, 7–23 (2013).

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  • Experience
  • Action
  • Practice
  • Theoretical and practical knowledge
  • ‘A sense of situation’