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Which Came first: The Chicken or the Egg? Objectively Answered.

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freestyle
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In a discussion with a friend about "context," I used this example of how questions precisely asked and with defined terms can be answered objectively.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Answer 1: The egg came first.

Reasoning: Since the type of egg is not specified in the question, a literal reading makes the answer clear. Fossil evidence of the existence of eggs dates earlier than the chicken.

Answer 2: If "chicken egg" is specified, a definition of terms is required which, depending on the operable definition, will allow for only answer "2A" or "2B"

Answer 2A
Reasoning:
The Egg came first.
**If "chicken egg" is defined strictly as an egg
containing
a chicken.**

Answer 2B
Reasoning:
The Chicken came first.
**If "chicken egg" is defined as an egg
produced by
a chicken.** (This answer also applies if both "produced by" and "containing" are specified as the definition)

This is why it is no fun to argue with an Objectivist. :-) Did I miss anything, or any possibility?

...nevertheless, this is another of the examples of how "black and white" answers do exist if you define your terms. I have found that getting to objective answers often frustrates people and they'd rather just fall back on "you know what I mean."

***All of this is just a preface to ask the following question:***

If context and definition of terms are specified, is there always a "right or wrong" answer?

(if you say "no", can you provide an example?)

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freestyle, I suggest that you've entirely missed the point of the cliche question "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?". I believe that that question is used to express the idea that a chicken came from an egg that came from a chicken that came from an egg..., and the question asks whether a chicken or an egg is at the beginning of that sequence. Or perhaps the question is rhetorical, and simply identifies what seems to be an infinite regress.

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I believe that that question is used to express the idea that a chicken came from an egg that came from a chicken that came from an egg..., and the question asks whether a chicken or an egg is at the beginning of that sequence. Or perhaps the question is rhetorical, and simply identifies what seems to be an infinite regress.

It only "seems" to be an infinite regress if the question is allowed to remain vague. This is the point I am arguing. There is an answer if you define the terms.

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How do you reach answer 2A or 2B?

If Egg is defined as "egg produced by a chicken" it implies that the particular chicken came before that particular egg, but it does not that imply that chicken came first.

Far from being helpful, definitions can be downright dangerous and useless when used this way. Instead of trying to answer some fact about reality, we're left with a word-game.

If we want to take the question seriously, it is really asking a fact of biology: i.e. how did the process of chicken/egg get started. The answer lies in discovering how the process got started.

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How do you reach answer 2A or 2B?

If Egg is defined as "egg produced by a chicken" it implies that the particular chicken came before that particular egg, but it does not that imply that chicken came first.

Far from being helpful, definitions can be downright dangerous and useless when used this way. Instead of trying to answer some fact about reality, we're left with a word-game.

You are just offering a new distinction. If we both agree to use that distinction, then we can agree on the answer.

If we want to take the question seriously, it is really asking a fact of biology: i.e. how did the process of chicken/egg get started. The answer lies in discovering how the process got started.

That's the evolutionary question, and perhaps science has an answer. I'm not a biologist, but unless the first chicken came from a non bird species (i.e. a live birth), then logically the egg had to come first (i.e. an "almost chicken" or other bird gave birth to a mutation which qualified as the first chicken.

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freestyle, you continue to miss the point of the question "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?". In my previous post I took the question at face value, but in fact when people ask it they are interested in neither chickens nor eggs, but about other things, the first of which leads to the second and the second of which leads to the first.

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The real answer is that only individuals exist, and that a species such as "chicken" is an epistemological category. No one would be able to tell the difference from parent to child where the boundary between chicken and non-chicken is.

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Defining your terms is definitely the trick to these types of apparent contradictory questions.

An alternate angle to the OP is bioligical.

The question offers two basic patterns of transition from a "non-chicken" life form to a "chicken" life form:

1) Non-chicken egg grows to chicken adult.

2) Non-chicken parents breed (or, at least, hatch) a chicken

If you base the answer on genetics, the answer is 2.

Parents (always) give birth to a child with different DNA via a number of different processes(*). Typically, the differences aren't large enough in a single generation to define a new species, but the root cause of evolution of chickens is: the (child) eggs have different DNA from the parent.

The evolutionary cause ISN'T a fully formed child's DNA mutates and it grows up with altered DNA sometime during its life. If mutations happen, they only happen to certain cells, and these cells might grow and take over, but that's called often called cancer...

Tim

(*) DNA differences between the parent and the child occur from:

a) normal reproduction

B) a parent's reproductive DNA getting mutated prior to reproduction;

c) DNA not joining quite right during reproduction;

d) some sort of post-conception mutation occurring very early in the organisms lifecycle, passing to all cells as the organism grows.

In many ways, the pattern is very similar to genetic engineering. The new life form needs its DNA modified at the single cell level so that the mutation appears in all of the life-form's cells.

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I'm really surprised by some of the responses so far. The OP was using a fun example to point out that there are people who attempt to use the grey area created by failure to properly define terms to validate their beliefs, and that those people become frustrated when talking with him, as he does not allow them to get away with it.

Good post!

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It only "seems" to be an infinite regress if the question is allowed to remain vague. This is the point I am arguing. There is an answer if you define the terms.

In an existence which is eternal made up of a plethora of actions as diverse as the existents that cause them, is this enough to identify what the regress of interactions is delimited by?

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I'm really surprised by some of the responses so far. The OP was using a fun example to point out that there are people who attempt to use the grey area created by failure to properly define terms to validate their beliefs, and that those people become frustrated when talking with him, as he does not allow them to get away with it.

Good post!

The method used in the OP was incorrect. Words are not their definitions, and that kind of maneuver is rationalistic.

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In an existence which is eternal made up of a plethora of actions as diverse as the existents that cause them, is this enough to identify what the regress of interactions is delimited by?

Assuming I follow you correctly, my answer is yes.

Either at the genetic level or even by an *action* of human volition, a definition can be defined. (ie a finite identification can be established as a basis for answering a particular question)

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Assuming I follow you correctly, my answer is yes.

Either at the genetic level or even by an *action* of human volition, a definition can be defined. (ie a finite identification can be established as a basis for answering a particular question)

Fair enough. That may address the issue at the abiogenesis level, Are there metaphysical interactions which are anticedent to the emergence of life? Are those metaphysical interactions preceded by other metaphysical interactions?

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The borderline between different species is the ability of the two different types of animals to reproduce. There is a different species involved if a male and female cannot produce a fertile offspring. However, by definition this boundary never was crossed in the origin of the species. This is not a metaphysical paradox about causation, it is an instance of the "borderline case" issue created by superimposing an epistemological category on a sequence of particulars.

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You didn't define "chicken" or "egg". You only defined "chicken egg".

Touché. And what about "first"?

The basis of this was all relating to argument. IF there is a disagreement about "egg", then I would propose we should define that term before trying to answer the original question.

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The basis of this was all relating to argument. IF there is a disagreement about "egg", then I would propose we should define that term before trying to answer the original question.

The point is the answer isn't going to come from a linguistic analysis or a deduction based on your definitions. Deduction is fine and all, but if the question is serious, we'd be trying to discover something new, namely, when do we consider something a chicken anyway? Do we care about what pops out of the egg? Do we care about what created the egg? When do you consider an offspring a new species as opposed to a mutated or deformed individual of a species? That's what someone is going to grab onto and say you still didn't eliminate gray areas. And it's true. The way to respond to someone is to explain what a borderline case is, as Grames is saying. The best I can say, lacking knowledge about evolution, is that I don't know the answer and your analysis brings me no closer to an answer. You have to tell me about some concrete particulars and *why* you choose your particular definitions. There is indeed a gray area, at least until we study what is involved. Deduction is nice and all, but there are some unquestioned or unanalyzed premises here.

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The point is the answer isn't going to come from a linguistic analysis or a deduction based on your definitions. Deduction is fine and all, but if the question is serious, we'd be trying to discover something new, namely, when do we consider something a chicken anyway?

Hmmm... We're not on the same page. Let me see if I can better explain.

To proceed in a conversation or argument that makes sense with another person, it cannot be my definition alone that matters. It must be our definition (or the definition we agree on in language before proceeding). We need to define and agree to the terms we're using or the conversation is useless.

If we attack a new question, the same applies.

"Should this nectarine go in the orange or red basket?"

Uh oh...

"Where does the color red begin?"

To that question, you can certainly answer: "It doesn't" -- "invalid question". As Grames puts it, "...it is an instance of the 'borderline case' issue created by superimposing an epistemological category on a sequence of particulars. "

Well this is great (and epistemologically airtight), but it doesn't serve the purpose of telling us which basket the nectarines need to go in to.

Even in a borderline case, we can identify an objective line of distinction. ***Don't get distracted by my method here, but perhaps in this case, we could use a digital color meter and select the mid point between Orange (RGB 255, 127, 0) and Red (RGB 255, 0, 0) and draw the line there. So, nectarines measured at RGB 255, LESS THAN 63.5, 0 are Red and nectarines with a greater value than 63.5 are Orange.***

++++

What I am attempting to communicate here is that, IF YOU DON'T ACCEPT my definition and interpretation of the question then you must define what your terms.

So, again, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" The answer is "the egg" because eggs came before fowl.

"No." you say. "That's not what the question means".

Fine, if that is the position you take, then state the question more precisely and see if you can provide an A/B alternative type question that cannot be with defined terms.

(If your position is that it is only to provoke thought about concepts and not supposed to be answered, that's fine... I just think that is communication via floating abstractions).

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In your case of red/orange nectarines (what do you do with the nectarines which measure 255,63.5,0? Eat them to avoid the controversy?) the axis of measurement and the standard have been identified.

In your chicken/egg example, the axis of measurement and standard by which to take as the unit are not as easily apparent or readably communicable. This is the issue of concepts. While color now has a scientific basis for segregating them, for thousands of years the commensurable characteristic by which to measure it had not yet been discovered, eliciting similar controversies.

Edited to add.

Edited by dream_weaver
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It must be our definition (or the definition we agree on in language before proceeding). We need to define and agree to the terms we're using or the conversation is useless.

I think what is being suggested is that you cannot necessarily define your way to the right answer, even if you agree on the terms and definitions. If the definitions are in error, it doesn't matter if there is agreement.

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I think what is being suggested is that you cannot necessarily define your way to the right answer, even if you agree on the terms and definitions. If the definitions are in error, it doesn't matter if there is agreement.

Is that to say that a.) there is no right answer or b.) we do not have the necessary knowledge/data/information to determine the right answer?

Can we not determine every possible answer to the specific question?

a.) chicken

b.) egg

c.) neither

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