I think it's partly cultural. Anyone about my age will probably remember Martin Yan and his TV show, "Yan Can Cook." One of his favorite tricks is to break down a chicken in 18 seconds, with a chinese cleaver. He used that knife for most kitchen chores.
It also depends on the kind of cooking. I remember an interesting discussion where someone pointed out that French and Japanese cooks are "anatomist"- the cuisine features extremely precise cuts and very specialized use of ingredients. Think about the extreme persnickiness of a French chef regarding the exact sizing of brunoise, or the half dozen very specifically named cuts that sushi chefs extract from just the loin of a Bluefin. Much Chinese cooking, on the other hand, features stir fry techniques, where the product is generally chopped somewhat roughly but to specific sizes that allow things to cook together.
The style of food and the techniques required to produce it will dictate the tool needed to prepare it. It's interesting to see the evolution of those tools once a culture is exposed to the culinary traditions of a different region. For instance, until recently the Japanese didn't eat an awful lot of beef. Being an island nation they've always eaten a lot of seafood. Since they don't have to cut a lot of large mammal and poultry bones, a good amount of their traditional patterns evolved around cutting vegetables and boneless proteins. Thus you get knives like the yanagi-ba, a very slender single bevel knife with an extraordinarily keen edge. You couldn't cut bones with it but you'll get wonderfully thin and accurate slices of raw Ahi with it.
If we're not supposed to eat animals, then how come they're made out of meat?