The 6 Types Of Knowledge:
From A Priori To Procedural

There is so much disagreement over what are, exactly, the different types
of knowledge that an agreed upon “master list” simply does not exist. This
is because knowledge is purely philosophical; debates span centuries,
arguments supersede fact and everyone has a different opinion about what is,
or is not, knowledge.

What follows is a master list (although, of course, it won’t be agreed upon)
of the different types of knowledge and theories of knowledge that are out
there. Turn this new-found “knowledge” on yourself with this awesome class
on how to take inventory of yourself and gain authentic self-knowlege.

1. A Priori

A priori and a posteriori are two of the original terms in epistemology (the
study of knowledge). A priori literally means “from before” or “from earlier.”
This is because a priori knowledge depends upon what a person can derive from
the world without needing to experience it. This is better known as reasoning.
Of course, a degree of experience is necessary upon which a priori knowledge
can take shape.

Let’s look at an example. If you were in a closed room with no windows and
someone asked you what the weather was like, you would not be able to answer
them with any degree of truth. If you did, then you certainly would not be
in possession of a priori knowledge. It would simply be impossible to use
reasoning to produce a knowledgable answer.

On the other hand, if there were a chalkboard in the room and someone wrote
the equation 4 + 6 = ? on the board, then you could find the answer without
physically finding four objects and adding six more objects to them and then
counting them. You would know the answer is 10 without needing a real world
experience to understand it. In fact, mathematical equations are one of the
most popular examples of a priori knowledge.

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2. A Posteriori

Naturally, then, a posteriori literally means “from what comes later” or “from
what comes after.” This is a reference to experience and using a different kind
of reasoning (inductive) to gain knowledge. This kind of knowledge is gained by
first having an experience (and the important idea in philosophy is that it is
acquired through the five senses) and then using logic and reflection to derive
understanding from it. In philosophy, this term is sometimes used interchangeably
with empirical knowledge, which is knowledge based on observation.

It is believed that a priori knowledge is more reliable than a posteriori knowledge.
This might seem counter-intuitive, since in the former case someone can just sit
inside of a room and base their knowledge on factual evidence while in the latter
case someone is having real experiences in the world. But the problem lies in this
very fact: everyone’s experiences are subjective and open to interpretation. This
is a very complex subject and you might find it illuminating to read this post on
knowledge issues and how to identify and use them. A mathematical equation, on the
other hand, is law.

3. Explicit Knowledge

Now we are entering the realm of explicit and tacit knowledge. As you have noticed
by now, types of knowledge tend to come in pairs and are often antitheses of each
other. Explicit knowledge is similar to a priori knowledge in that it is more formal
or perhaps more reliable. Explicit knowledge is knowledge that is recorded and
communicated through mediums. It is our libraries and databases. The specifics of
what is contained is less important than how it is contained. Anything from the
sciences to the arts can have elements that can be expressed in explicit knowledge.
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The defining feature of explicit knowledge is that it can be easily and quickly
transmitted from one individual to another, or to another ten-thousand or ten-billion.
It also tends to be organized systematically. For example, a history textbook on the
founding of America would take a chronological approach as this would allow knowledge
to build upon itself through a progressive system; in this case, time.

4. Tacit Knowledge

I should note that tacit knowledge is a relatively new theory introduced only as recently
as the 1950s. Whereas explicit knowledge is very easy to communicate and transfer from
one individual to another, tacit knowledge is precisely the opposite. It is extremely
difficult, if not impossible, to communicate tacit knowledge through any medium.

For example, the textbook on the founding of America can teach facts (or things we believe
to be facts), but someone who is an expert musician can not truly communicate their knowledge;
in other words, they can not tell someone how to play the instrument and the person will
immediately possess that knowledge. That knowledge must be acquired to a degree that goes far,
far beyond theory. In this sense, tacit knowledge would most closely resemble a posteriori
knowledge, as it can only be achieved through experience.

The biggest difficult of tacit knowledge is knowing when it is useful and figuring out how to
make it usable. Tacit knowledge can only be communicated through consistent and extensive
relationships or contact (such as taking lessons from a professional musician). But even in
this cases there will not be a true transfer of knowledge. Usually two forms of knowledge are
born, as each person must fill in certain blanks (such as skill, short-cuts, rhythms, etc.).
You can better understand this theory and other ways we use knowledge with this video textbook
on the psychology of learning.

5. Propositional Knowledge
(also Descriptive or Declarative Knowledge)

Our last pair of knowledge theories are propositional and non-propositional knowledge, both
of which share similarities with some of the other theories already discussed. Propositional
knowledge has the oddest definition yet, as it is commonly held that it is knowledge that
can literally be expressed in propositions; that is, in declarative sentences (to use its
other name) or indicative propositions.

Propositional knowledge is not so different from a priori and explicit knowledge. The key
attribute is knowing that something is true. Again, mathematical equations could be an
example of propositional knowledge, because it is knowledge of something, as opposed to,
knowledge of how to do something.

The best example is one that contrasts propositional knowledge with our next form of knowledge,
non-propositional or procedural knowledge. Let’s use a textbook/manual/instructional pamphlet
that has information on how to program a computer as our example. Propositional knowledge is
simply knowing something or having knowledge of something. So if you read and/or memorized the
textbook or manual, then you would know the steps on how to program a computer. You could even
repeat these steps to someone else in the form of declarative sentences or indicative propositions.
However, you may have memorized every word yet have no idea how to actually program a computer.
That is where non-propositional or procedural knowledge comes in.

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6. Non-Propositional Knowledge
(also Procedural Knowledge)

Non-propositional knowledge (which is better known as procedural knowledge, but I decided to use
“non-propositional” because it is a more obvious antithesis to “propositional”) is knowledge that
can be used; it can be applied to something, such as a problem. Procedural knowledge differs from
propositional knowledge in that it is acquired “by doing”; propositional knowledge is acquired by
more conservative forms of learning.

One of the defining characteristics of procedural knowledge is that it can be claimed in a court
of law. In other words, companies that develop their own procedures or methods can protect them
as intellectual property. They can then, of course, be sold, protected, leased, etc.

Procedural knowledge has many advantages. Obviously, hands-on experience is extremely valuable;
literally so, as it can be used to obtain employment. We are seeing this today as experience
(procedural) is eclipsing education (propositional). Sure, education is great, but experience
is what defines what a person is capable of accomplishing. So someone who “knows” how to write
code is not nearly as valuable as someone who “writes” or “has written” code. However, some
people believe that this is a double-edged sword, as the degree of experience required to become
proficient limits us to a relatively narrow field of variety.

But nobody can deny the intrinsic and real value of experience. This is often more accurate than
propositional knowledge because it is more akin to the scientific method; hypotheses are tested,
observation is used, and progress results.

The 6 Types Of Knowledge: From A Priori To Procedural



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