Chicken or the egg

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A chick hatching from an egg

The chicken or the egg causality dilemma is commonly stated as "which came first: the chicken or the egg?". The dilemma stems from the observation that all chickens hatch from eggs and all chicken eggs are laid by chickens. To ancient philosophers, the question about the first chicken or egg also evoked the questions of how life and the universe began. The paradox is often used as a metaphor in that each side requires the other one to exist.[1]

Scientific resolution[edit]

According to evolutionary biology, the egg came first as it evolved prior to birds.[2]

Philosophical resolutions[edit]

Ancient philosophers were not aware of biological evolution. Aristotle (384–322 BC) was puzzled by the idea that there could be a first bird or egg and concluded that both the bird and egg must have always existed:

If there has been a first man he must have been born without father or mother – which is repugnant to nature. For there could not have been a first egg to give a beginning to birds, or there should have been a first bird which gave a beginning to eggs; for a bird comes from an egg.[3]

The same he held good for all species, believing, with Plato, "that everything before it appeared on earth had first its being in spirit."[4]

A dialectical answer (that of Hegel and Marx) is that the egg and chicken exist in a dialectical relationship; the problem, it says, is that we are approaching an organic/dialectical relationship with the mindset of formal logic, (linear cause-and-effect). Using this mindset, we reach a paradox, for we only see it in terms of "this caused that". To reach the true nature of this relationship, we have to admit the fact that the egg creates the chicken just as much as the chicken creates the egg. Hegel uses an analogy of a bud:

The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being incompatible with one another. But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them, at the same time, moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Theosophy (September 1939). "Ancient Landmarks: Plato and Aristotle". Theosophy. 27 (11): 483–491. Archived from the original on February 2013. 
  2. ^ Engber, Daniel (2013). "FYI: Which Came First, The Chicken Or The Egg?". Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation. 282 (3): 78. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  3. ^ François Fénelon: Abrégé des vies des anciens philosophes, Paris 1726, p. 314 (French). Translation: Lives of the ancient philosophers, London 1825, p. 202 (English)
  4. ^ Blavatsky, H.P. (1877). Isis Unveiled. pp. I, 426–428. [unreliable source?]
  5. ^ Hegel, Georg (1807). "Preface. On scientific knowledge §2". Phenomenology of Spirit.