Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road ?*

  • Woody Allen: For food. And perhaps a beverage too.
  • G.E.M. Anscombe: What happened was an expression of the chicken’s intention to cross the road.
  • Aristotle: To actualise its potential.
  • Julius Caesar: To come, to see, to conquer.
  • Albert Camus: It doesn’t matter; the chicken’s actions have no objective meaning.
  • Johnny Cash: Just to watch it get crossed.
  • David Chalmers: Whatever reason it gives us, its zombie-twin could offer it too.
  • Paul and Patricia Churchland: There was a neuro-chemical imbalance in its brain, possibly caused by poor chicken-feed, though it’s nothing that a few injections can’t cure.
  • Bill Clinton: To protect itself from the embarrassment of its own conduct.
  • Paul Coelho: The whole universe conspired so that the chicken could get what it wanted.
  • Noam Chomsky: It was manipulated by the media into erroneously thinking that it was freely choosing to cross the road.
  • Christopher Columbus: It thought that India was on the other side.
  • David Copperfield: I made the chicken disappear and then reappear on the other side.
  • Jonathan Dancy: Because it would be worth it to get to the other side, or so the chicken supposed.
  • Miles Davis: That chicken was one cool bird!
  • Charles Darwin: Chickens, over great periods of time, have been naturally selected in such a way that they are now genetically disposed to cross roads.
  • Donald Davidson: It wanted to get to the other side and believed that it could get there by crossing the road and this belief-desire pair, which constituted the chicken’s primary reason for crossing the road, caused it to do so through some non-deviant route which is impossible to specify. At least that would be the case if chickens had beliefs, which they don’t.
  • Richard Dawkins: It had selfish genes.
  • Daniel C. Dennett: We must take an intentional stance towards that chicken, even though its mind wasn’t reverse-engineered.
  • Charles Dickens: It was a far, far better road that he crossed than he had ever crossed before.
  • Emily Dickinson: Because it could not stop for death.
  • Bob Dylan and Sam Shepard: It didn’t know whether to duck or cross, so it crossed.
  • Epicurus: To experience a pleasurable sensation.
  • Albert Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road moved beneath the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.
  • Louis Farrakhan: The road represents the black man; the chicken is the white man. The chicken crossed the black man in order to trample him and keep him down.
  • Jerry Fodor: It had an innate road-crossing module, complete with all the necessary concepts. But we settled all that in the 1960s, so why are people still quoting Wittgenstein?
  • Sigmund Freud: It subconsciously identified the road with its father, who it wanted to cross.
  • Robert Frost: To reach the sidewalk less travelled by.
  • Stephen Jay Gould: It is possible that there is a sociobiological explanation for it, but we have been deluged in recent years with sociobiological stories despite the fact that we have little direct evidence about the genetics of behaviour, and we do not know how to obtain it for the specific behaviours that figure most prominently in sociobiological speculation.
  • Grandpa: In my day, we didn’t ask why the chicken crossed the road.Someone told us that the chicken had crossed the road, and that was good enough for us.
  • G.W.F. Hegel: It wasn’t a mere crossing but a transition from ‘subjective mind’ to ‘objective spirit’, effected through a historical moment of self-recognition.
  • Ernest Hemingway: To die. In the rain.
  • Werner Heisenberg: The chicken is distributed probabilistically on all sides of the road until you observe it on the side of your course.
  • Hippocrates: Because of an excess of phlegm in its pancreas.
  • Thomas Hobbes: For self-preservation.
  • Jennifer Hornsby: We need to distinguish between what the chicken does (cross the road) and the event that is its acting viz. its crossing (of) the road. Which do you seek to explain?
  • David Hume: Out of custom and habit.
  • Rosalind Hursthouse: It was an arational action, so it is a mistake (typical of a certain kind of theorist) to search for the chicken’s reason for doing it.
  • John Hyman: Because it knew it was the road to Larissa.
  • Henry James: It doesn’t need a reason to cross the road, it needs one not to cross it.
  • William James: It tried to cross it and this inner volition caused its act of crossing.
  • Carl Jung: The confluence of events in the cultural gestalt necessitated that individual chickens cross roads at this historical juncture, thereby bringing such occurrences into synchronicitous being.
  • Immanuel Kant: The chicken – being an autonomous being – chose to cross the road of his own free will, thus rationally willing that the maxim ‘it is ok to cross roads’ be universalised.
  • Sören Kierkegaard: It made a leap of faith.
  • Captain James T. Kirk: To boldly go where no chicken has gone before.
  • Martin Luther King Jr: It had a dream.
  • Joshua Knobe: There’s no point relying on our armchair intuitions, so a team of us asked a random sample of people and 83% of them said it was to get to the other side (though a slightly lower percentage only agreed that it was doing so intentionally when the chicken’s purpose was portrayed as being unethical).
  • Christine Korsgaard: To constitute itself as a road-crosser.
  • L.A. Police Department: Give me ten minutes with the chicken and I’ll find out.
  • Layperson: To get to the other side.
  • Timothy Leary: Because that’s the only trip the establishment would let it take.
  • David Lewis: Because it was possible, and every possible world is real. What matters is whether any of the worlds in which the chicken crossed the road is actual, and if so, why?
  • Benjamin Libet: Because of its neurological readiness potential which occurred milliseconds before the chicken reported its experience of intending to cross the road.
  • The Log Lady: Behind all things are reasons. Reasons can even explain the absurd. Do we have the time to learn the reasons behind the chicken’s behaviour? I think not. Some take the time. Are they
  • called detectives? Watch and see what life teaches.
  • Machiavelli: The point is that the chicken crossed the road. Who cares why? The end of crossing the road justified whatever motive there was.
  • Nicolas Malebranche: Because God caused it to cross when it willed to.
  • Market Consultant: Deregulation of the chicken’s side of the road was threatening its dominant market position.
  • Karl Marx: It was an historical inevitability.
  • Abraham Maslow: It had a hierarchy of needs.
  • John McDowell: The chicken has no world in view, so does not operate within the space of reasons.
  • John Stuart Mill: To become a chicken satisfied.
  • Moliere: Because there was in it a road-crossing power.
  • Thomas Nagel: It was altruistic and crossed despite not wanting to go to the other side.
  • Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres: Why not?
  • Isaac Newton: Chickens at rest tend to stay at rest. Chickens in motion tend to cross the road.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche: The so-called ‘drive’ to cross roads is but a sublimation of the chicken’s will to power.
  • Richard M. Nixon: The chicken did not cross the road. I repeat, the chicken did not cross the road.
  • George Orwell: Because the government had fooled him into thinking that he was crossing the road of his own free will, when in fact he was only serving their corrupt interests.
  • Derek Parfit: Its reasons are unimportant, what matters is that it crossed the road.
  • Blaise Pascal: It figured that it had less to lose by crossing, so made a leap of reason.
  • Daniel H. Pink: It was driven by a higher purpose to learn, to create, and to better the world.
  • Plato: It was acting under the guise of the good.
  • Marcel Proust: It was looking for the paradise lost.
  • V.S. Ramachandran: Because its neurons mirrored the full consequences of its act and he subsequently desired them.
  • Thomas Reid: It caused itself to cross the road.
  • Jean Renoir: Every chicken has its reasons, that’s the one and only horrifying thing in this world.
  • Paul Ricoeur: In order to configure a narrative which mediates between the world of action and that of reception.
  • Bertrand Russell: Only another chicken can know, by analogy from its own behaviour.
  • Gilbert Ryle: Whatever its motive this was not a cause of its behaviour but a disposition to behave in a road-crossing way.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: It was either transcending its facticity or acting in bad faith.
  • Colonel Sanders: I must have missed it.
  • Michael Schumacher: It was an instinctive manoeuvre. The chicken didn’t even see the road until he had already started to cross.
  • Arthur Schopenhauer: It willed to cross something and represented the road as being crossable.
  • Jerry Seinfeld: Why does anyone cross a road? I mean, why doesn’t anyone ever think to ask, ‘What the heck was this chicken doing walking around all over the place anyway?’
  • William Shakespeare: But soft, what bird on yonder asphalt trots?
  • B.F. Skinner: Because the external influences which had pervaded its sensorium from birth had caused it to develop a tendency to cross roads.
  • Michael Smith: Whatever answer one gives, it must presuppose a Humean story if it is to count as a reason-giving explanation.
  • The Sphinx: You tell me.
  • Oliver Stone: The question we should be asking is not ‘why did the chicken cross the road?’ but ‘who was crossing the road at the same time, whom have we overlooked in our haste to observe the chicken crossing?’
  • Galen Strawson: Its P-reasons fully determined its action (A), just in case the P-reasons explanation of A that cites R and R only is a true and full P-reasons explanation of A.
  • Willie Sutton: Because that’s what the other side was across of.
  • Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The chicken was no ordinary chicken but a black swan – we couldn’t have predicted that it would cross the road and yet concoct post hoc explanations to convince ourselves otherwise.
  • Ruchard Thaler and Cass Sunstein: We nudged it.
  • Henry David Thoreau: To survive in the face of hostile elements.
  • Johann Friedrich von Goethe: The eternal hen-principle made it do it.
  • Darth Vader: The other side was dark.
  • G.H. von Wright: Its crossing the road retrospectively caused a prior neural event which in turn caused the muscle contractions and bodily movements involved in crossing.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein: Russell’s view is intolerable. – We see the chicken’s behaviour as purposive. – A chicken can cross a road to get to the other side, but can it cross a road to get to the other side by
  • next Thursday?
  • Malcolm X: It was determined to get across that road by any means necessary.

From C. Sandis, The Things We Do and Why We Do Them, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp. 16-21.


For more answers go here.
*The characters below are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental.