Research and Philosophy: “What is a Tomato, really?” – Exploring Philosophy through Ontology and Epistemology



Ontology is the theory of ‘being’ and Epistemology is the theory of ‘knowledge’ (Marsh and Stoker, 2010). In order to fully understand the meaning of an object it is important to take an ontological and epistemological approach as it structures the arguments based on the perception of the existence of the object while challenging the truth of the perception itself.

Miles Kington said “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in fruit salad.”

So what is a tomato, really? Why is it perceived as a vegetable when it is actually a fruit?

Scientifically, a tomato is considered a fruit because it contains seeds and develops from a flower ovary (Britannica, 2016). One could argue that due to lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, a fruit is often perceived as a natural edible object that tastes sweet or sour. However, the idea of eating a tomato does not resonate well with our experience of a fruit and hence we generally tend to categorise it as a vegetable.

In Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein said “ The world is the totality of facts, not things”. There is an obvious discrepancy in the facts and perception in the case of a tomato and there can be no definite answer as beliefs can be rooted in objective science or subjective sensorial perceptions. It raises questions about the accuracy the nature of reality and the influence of knowledge on existence.

However trivial the argument over the classification of a tomato might sound, it is interesting to note that in 1983 the Nix family sued Edward Hedden over the collection of taxes on transporting tomatoes. Under the tariff of 1883, imported vegetables were taxed but fruits were not. The Supreme court decided that the scientific classification of the tomato doesn’t affect the perception of a tomato as a vegetable and hence the Nix family lost the case. (Business Insider, 2013). Personally, I would still be repulsive to the idea of having a dessert with tomatoes in it, because I feel more comfortable using the tomato as a vegetable instead of a fruit. Sensorial perception wins in my case.

Britannica (2016), Is a Tomato a Fruit or a Vegetable?, Available at: (Accessed: May 22 2017)

Business Insider (2013), The Supreme Court Says The Tomato Is A Vegetable — Not A Fruit, Available at: (Accessed: May 22 2017)

Marsh, D., Stoker, G.,(2010)  Theory and Methods in Political Science, Palgrave Macmillan.

McManus, D (2010), The Enchantment of Words: Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Oxford: Clarendon Press.


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