Chicken and Egg Confusing Cause and Effect

The age-old question, "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" is used to describe dilemmas to which there are no easy answers. In terms of logical arguments, when you are not sure which came first, you could make an error by confusing cause and effect. Just because two things regularly occur together, you cannot necessarily determine that one causes the other. Chicken and egg is a fallacy that has the following general form:

1. A and B regularly occur together.

2. Therefore, A is the cause of B.

This fallacy requires that there is no common cause that actually causes both A and B, and that an assumption is made that one event must cause another just because the events occur together. The assumption is based on inadequate justification; there is not enough evidence to draw the causal conclusion.

A common example of the chicken and egg fallacy is the relationship between television and movie violence and real-life violent behavior. Many people believe that violent behavior is the result of watching TV and movie violence. Many others believe that people are violent, and therefore they create, watch, and enjoy violent programming. Does television violence cause real-life violence, or vice versa? Or, is there no causal relationship between the two? The simple fact that some people are violent, and some entertaining TV shows and movies contain violence, is not enough to assert a connection.

How can you avoid the chicken and egg fallacy? The fallacy occurs because the conclusion is drawn without having enough evidence to determine cause and effect. One way to avoid it is to pay careful atten tion to the sequence of events. If A happens after B, A can't cause B. Another way is to ask yourself if there is anything else that could have been the cause. Think about the evidence presented. Is it enough to draw the conclusion?


■ Many people who have lung cancer are smokers. Having lung cancer causes people to smoke.

■ If you keep speeding, you will become a bad driver.

■ Last night I had a fever. This morning, I have a cold and a fever. The fever caused the cold.

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