Of Chickens and Roads

Something about the riddle that goes, “Why did the chicken cross the road?


“Why did the chicken cross the road?” is an old nursery riddle, and a lesson in flawed circular logic. The answer, “To get to the other side”, is really no answer at all, in that it gives no reason as to why the chicken crossed the road, but rather what it means to cross a road in the first place: getting to the other side of the road. The person who pauses to try and answer the question as to why a chicken would cross a road — without having been given any more data to work out a decent premise — cannot accept “To get to the other side” as an answer. That is not an answer to the “Why,” but to the “What” of crossing roads.

The true answer to the riddle is that there is not enough information given. The fact that it refers to “THE” chicken as though it were a primary character in some narrative assumes that there is more to this story than meets the eye. If the question were phrased as “Why does A chicken cross the road?”, then it could be taken to refer to chickens in general, and from there we could infer something about the generic nature of chickens and what in that nature would stimulate them to the crossing-of-roads.

But no, the question is about THE chicken, which means we are dealing with an individual chicken, with its own individual stimuli and background — which are not referred to in sufficient or even insufficient detail to infer any reason for it to cross the road. We can only be satisfied that it did cross the road, and that it did indeed reach the other side safely, much to the disdain of intellectuals everywhere.