The chicken-egg problem

Why does the chicken-egg problem have an immediate and obvious answer if we put it like this: which came first, Jessica Chastek or the eggs in her ovaries?

So maybe the problem arises because we’re asking whether some egg or another or some chicken or another came first. But this is too vague – obviously my wife is some woman or another too. So then the question has to be whether a chickens as a sort of thing come before eggs as a sort of thing. But what sense can we make of one sort of thing, i.e. an abstract thing, coming before another? Abstractions don’t play by the same causal rules as concrete things: maybe all chickens come from eggs, but the idea of chicken doesn’t: we can get the idea of chickens from any number of non-egg realities – like a series of letters C-H-I-C-K-E-N.

So the question seems to turn on an interesting idea of intelligible structures that somehow pre-exist various individual concrete realities, like a sort of plan in things that the things themselves follow. What we want to know is whether, in nature’s own instruction book, the chapter on chicken eggs comes before the chapter on chickens, and it is precisely these chapters, and not the individual chickens, that count as the chicken. So what we’re assuming about nature in the question turns out to be just as interesting as any resolution we might give to it. The question itself turns out to be a rather interesting one about to what extent we can enter into the mind of nature.

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