John Locke, True Knowledge & the Pineapple


In late 15th century Europe, the gulf between the pineapple's fame and the difficulty satisfying curiosity as to its taste came to epitomize the nature of knowledge itself. 

In his On Human Understanding, published in 1690, the empiricist John Locke used the pineapple to argue that true knowledge can only be based on experience.  He wrote,

if you doubt this, see whether you can by words give anyone who has never tasted pineapple an idea of the taste of that fruit.  He may approach a grasp of it by being told of its resemblance to other tastes of which he already has the ideas in his memory, imprinted there by things he has taken into his mouth; but merely raising up in him other simple ideas that will still be very different from the true taste of the pineapple.

Portrait of John Locke by in 1697 by Godfrey Kneller


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