The Chicken or the Egg?

Ah the age old causal question of the precedence in existence of the chicken and the egg. Evolution theories aside, I turn now to Aristotelian metaphysics to solve this little puzzle. Note also that for the sake of convenience of not having to type out “chicken egg” every time, I will just use “egg” to mean “chicken egg.”

The problem should be stated that a chicken egg must be produced by a chicken, yet it is from chicken eggs that chickens come forth. However, this causal series cannot go ad infinitum, thus one has to be before the other. Aristotelian metaphysics seems to suggest that it is the chicken that precedes the egg in existence.

First and foremost, we need to understand the difference between potency and act in Aristotelian metaphysics. Potency: that which has the potential to become actualized; act: that which is. Further, Aristotle maintains that thoughts of actuality and potency can only go in this direction, i.e. actuality before potency, and not the opposite direction, i.e. potency before act, for the thought of something potentially becoming actualized as something else means that the thing actualized must first be known.

Accordingly, the egg cannot have come before the chicken because the egg is only potentially chicken whereas the chicken is actually chicken. One cannot have thought of the egg as becoming chicken unless one knows chicken in the first place.

Thus, that which has a potential to become a specific something presupposes that there is that actual specific thing for it to become. Therefore, in order for a chicken egg to become a chicken there must be chicken in the first place; for one cannot claim an egg to be a chicken egg unless one knows what a chicken is in the first place. To do so without knowing is both unimaginable and unintelligible. Conclusively, the chicken came before the egg


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