Why is it necessary to survive ? Every living thing, every single living thing on earth evolves in a way to survive, actually if it wasn't for this motive of survival, no living thing would actually evolve and all life would not exist. So where does this necessity come from ?

Is it coded in our DNA ? and if it is, why is it coded ?

I want to be more specific:

I work in artificial intelligence, i have already asked this same question to many neuro-scientists and and AI experts, still no answer. i work with evolutionary algorithms (try to mimic evolutionary behavior) and i am coming to a conclusion that an answer to such a question will be hard to find. In fact even plants (non-rational living creatures) strive to survive, like animals and humans do. ofcourse some animals, humans and plants sometimes commit "suicide" or other behaviors which contradict the fact that they want to survive, i am not referring to these special cases, i am referring to everything else. you see there exists a need to survive that is why humans and animals evolve (reproduce to stay in existance genetically) which is if you think of it, the root to all living things, the first living life form must have wanted to exist, in such a way it "adapted" somehow and survived and this success was moved on to its offspring

I would like to say that if anyone is keen on talking about the subject or chatting, please let me know, i could share my knowledge and check out what you think about this, i have come here to ask such a question because of the subject of philosophy. i am a scientist with many other interdisciplinary scientists around me that have no REAL answer to such a question

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    It's not necessary to survive. That's why species go extinct. – user8962 Sep 1 '14 at 9:55
  • It is hard to say, where behavior is coded. But if it is coded somewhere, I'd assume that biologists know more about it than philosophers. – Einer Sep 1 '14 at 10:36
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    It's "necessary" to survive only in that it is necessary to be alive in order to reproduce. As other's suggest, it is not actually survival that is the ultimate driving force in evolution, but rather the reproductive success of a species (which sometimes in fact requires the sacrifice of some members of a population for the benefit of others). – stoicfury Sep 2 '14 at 2:22
  • I expanded my answer. I still think, you won't like it, but I think this is one of those questions (and there are some of them), where the answer is so primitive (and mine for sure is) that it's hard to accept that it is an answer addressing the question at all. – Einer Sep 2 '14 at 17:33
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    Basically just read up on how evolution works. – Canadian Coder Jul 11 '16 at 16:18

11 Answers 11


First of all not all living thing strifes to survive. There are several animals who would sacrifice their life to defend their hive, group, young or territory. Humans (and in some rare cases also animals) can commit suicide. So for humans the will to survive is not "hard-coded", which makes the questions "Why" and "Where" obsolete.

As for animals: They will behave in a way favorable to their reproductive success. To defend your young with your life does exactly that. So the principle involved is not the strive to survive but reproductive success. Why is that? If you have no offspring, you cannot pass on your behavior to it (be it genetically, epigenetic or habituation or conditioning i.e. 'teaching'). So this behavior will not be present in the next generation. The only behavior present in the next generation will be those that's favorable to reproductive success. For ants or bees there is a similar reasoning. If the soldiers of a hive behave in a way that will lead to the death of the queen, the queen will never again give birth to soldiers that would not give their lifes for her.

So to answer your questions: The strife to survival is not "implemented" in all living things, so there is no reason, why it is the case (since it is not the case) and no place, where it is implemented. The tendency to behave favorable to reproductive success is harder to locate. For beings like plants, algae, fungi, bacteria, and basically everything without a nervous-system it is save to assume, that no mental processes are involved, so offspring can not "learn" that behavior from their parents. The further we move up the ladder of consciousness, the more learning/teaching becomes an viable option. Also the more we move up that ladder, the more animals and humans are able to withstand the social and genetic programming. So we know of cases where cow elephant separates herself from the horde after her child has died, and sized to participate "reproductive successful stuff". Also we know of human hermits and you will find humans willing to die for a cause, that does not promise higher reproductive success for his family or kin (e.g. risking his life to rescue a stranger).

Edit (following the edit of the question):

There are only few living beings that strive to survive. "To strive" has a component of being intentional. Intention means doing something because you have a will to achieve an end. Will (as in "will to achieve something" and "will to survive") is something that requires at least some level of consciousness, and that is something we probably can not attribute to beings like bacteria, single-cell organisms and other living things. In the same way it is a strange manner of speaking to say that a river tries to find the path of least resistance to the sea. It does not try anything, it does not try to avoid the strain of flowing uphill, it is just following the laws of nature. In the same way bacteria don't try to stay alive. They just do or they don't stay alive.

It is not settled, which level of consciousness is required to have a will: Does crabs have a will? mice, apes, humans? But maybe the scope of your question is way smaller than anticipated. It seems, that the less reluctant we are to attribute a will to a being, the more often we can witness that it exhibits self-destructive tendencies. That it is willing to die for a something, that it commits suicide. So maybe this will to survive is no mysterious universal constant that all living beings share, but something we are very familiar with, because only beings somewhat similar to us experience it: fear of death (and whatever comes after it - if anything), the wish to experience more or the hope that life will be great one day.

  • @user3406455 You added a passage dealing with suicide where you say: "Everything wants to survive except it wants to commit suicide, but those cases I want to exclude." With this disclaimer the answer to your question should be easy: It's true because is a tautology. It's like asking: "Why are all cars green (except for the differently colored, lets exclude those)?" – Einer Sep 2 '14 at 14:54

Living things evolve in such a way as to pass on their genes. They only have to survive for long enough to do that. For example, many Pacific salmon die after their first spawning.

Genes are molecules that can be copied but are not always copied perfectly. As a result of mistakes in copying there are variants on a particular gene at any given time. Some of those variants make more copies in a particular environment than others. The genes that survive do so by incorporating some information about their environment. Sometimes the relevant environment is the chemicals surrounding the organism. Sometimes the environment is other genes, such as genes for a female to mate for a male with a large tail in peacocks.

The vast bulk of organisms have no understanding of what they are doing or why. Rather, they just have certain biological structures that result in them carrying out certain tasks. They are like a guided missile. The missile doesn't know or care about why it was launched, it just has certain mechanisms that have the effect of aiming it toward targets with certain features.

See "The Selfish Gene" and "The Extended Phenotype" by Richard Dawkins and "The Fabric of Reality" (especially chapter 8) and "The Beginning of Infinity" (especially chapter 4) by David Deutsch.


The "need to survive" may be nothing more than a sampling bias. Consider that of all the mass on the earth, only 0.00000001% of that mass is living things. Thus most of the mass of the earth could be said to "not survive."

One major question that must always arise when discussing necessities of life is "what defines life anyway?" That's known to be a very difficult question to answer. However, if one is watching out for sampling biases, one really needs to understand one's domain.

Something I find notable about life is that it retains some measurable quality far longer than one might assume if using nothing but base physics. In the forest, a human corpse becomes liquified in a month, but a living human being obviously retains "human" attributes far longer than that. If an entity decomposed as fast as a corpse did, we would likely find it too uninteresting to call it "life." Even the mayfly retains the characteristics of a mayfly remarkably long compared to how long they might last if they weren't alive.

Thus it may be fair to say that, from a pure biological perspective, the apparent effort to survive is fundamental to life because the things we call living all need longevity to be included in this group we call "living."

Beyond that, one could consider the metaphysical arguments about life, and seek to explore the effort to survive in those terms. However, from your question, it appeared those considerations may not be all that pressing, so the biological classification argument may be sufficient for your needs.


Take two species. Mostly identical, but one has genes that make the members of the species try to survive and produce offspring, while the other species doesn't have that tendency. Wait ten generations. How many of the second species are left?

Quite simply, species that don't have genes that tend to produce offspring will be dying out quite quickly. And because they die out, we don't see them. The fact that we see a species proves that it must be designed to survive and reproduce.

Within a species, there will be variation of behaviour. Every member of a species having the same behaviour doesn't tend to be good for survival of the species. And there is no need for individual survival. With some species, there is no need for survival past the production of offspring, and often the individuals of the species will naturally die shortly after offspring is produced.


You have things backwards. Nothing evolves because it 'needs to survive'. It 'needs to survive' because that's how it evolved. If it evolved in a way that it didn't need to survive, it wouldn't be here. No need to be a 'rational being,' as you point out. The concept even applies to things like stars and planets.

Look around the universe. It is filled with things that 'survive.' (things that are stable and persist through time) Why? Because if it didn't persist through time, it wouldn't be here, or wound't be here very long. Think of unstable elements. They are rare.

In fact, the whole concept of evolution has 'survival' as the filter. So, things that don't survive don't make it through the filter and aren't here to talk about. So, you have things exactly backwards.

Also, this seems like a disingenuous question that is religious in nature, but disguised as scientific. The word 'necessary' gives it away. Necessary to whom?


Species existing today have a biological preference for survival, because species without this trait don't tend to survive long. This is the same reason that beneficial traits tend to spread throughout the species population while harmful traits tend to disappear.

Non-preference for self (or offsprings') survival is a trait that isn't going to have much success being passed on. Early organisms likely did not have any such preference, of course, but there weren't many predatory organisms around either. Once eating each other became a bit more popular, any organisms that happened to develop the trait for self-preservation would drastically out perform those that didn't mind being eaten.

So survival isn't objectively necessary, however it is a trait you're going to see in most/any species that last more than a few generations.


I think I am a kind of the "opposite" of you-(grin :)-I am a biologist who in the pursuit of the great questions of Life had to introduce himself to philosophy, so I have my own unique perspective on this question and can understand how you "feel" about it!

If you ask my colleagues they will probably start to mumble things like it is evolution driving Life so it needs to survive to evolve, it is a "natural instinct" or even survival is the purpose of Life but as a man who had "been" in both worlds-philosophy and biology I want to tell you some personal experience-neither the biologists. not the philosophers can answer you arguably good. I think the reason is biologists don't understand philosophy and philosophers-biology. And what is even worse is they sometimes do not want to understand each other! But in order to answer your question-they simple must! This is why you get the attitude you get. If you ask a philosopher he will tell you survival is a matter of choice and start citing existentialism or psychoanalysis or any other "big" school of philosophy and try to defend his or hers perspective behind the names of "great authors" in the respective school. It is how philosophers think! If you ask my colleagues they will think like scientists-they tell you Life is what we observe to be Life! Therefore any facts about Life are facts about our observations. We observe Life trying to survive, therefore survival is a prerequisite of Life. All things alive try to survive-therefore, survival is part of Life! Of course, there are some "exceptions" here and there but even they can be explained in terms of the individual dying for the sake of the group or any other "superorganism" they can observe. Do you agree? And it is here where the "conflict" comes into play and it seems like everybody has their own answer for the question but what they really are doing is like comparing their own "version" of reality to anyone else's? Have you ever been in such a situation?

I have and the way I got out of it was to try to cross-reference what the different experts had in mind when talking about the same thing. I know it sounds easy, but the reality is sometimes understanding what the question is is the most difficult part of finding the answer! As far as survival is concerned I tried to look at the question itself, rather than at philosophy and biology in particular and asked myself the question-Is there a reason Life is actively trying to spread? I know it may not sound like your question at first, but think about it for a second what spread may infer? It can be a spread in space which means growth and/or reproduction and a spread in time which may be evolution for the group and survival for the individual. Does now this question bear in mind? Then, why is Life trying to spread?

May be, because it itself is a SELF-sustaining process!(Please, pay attention to the noun self here.)This is the answer I got a long time ago(actually, it wasn't so long in calendar time, but for me it seemed like it was an eternity ago :). How about it?

Oxidation is a self-sustaining process, especially if the heat produced by the oxidation itself can produce more heat to power the production for even more heat. There is a layman's term for such chemical reaction-it is called fire! Just like fire Life is a self-sustaining process. The difference is Life is self-contained within its own borders(please, consider the concept of the autopoiesis for more details). Once you start a fire does it want to stop? When will a fire stop-when you want it to stop or when it had consumed all the available resources? Does a fire stops on "its own will"? Does a fire wants to stop? What is its desire?

P.S.I hope this helps :)

  • Then you may find interesting this post on the meaning of spirit": "Spirit is flame." (Heidegger/Derrida) – Chris Degnen Feb 26 '17 at 20:00
  • Life is compared to fire, because it is self-sustaining process just like it. The big difference, however, is Life keeps the energy it releases within itself to build more organization with it, while fire releases it in the environment. In short fire simplifies its environment-Life complexifies it. If fire could generate complexity it would be truly alive. But it doesn't. However it displays the answer to the question asked here-it displays "the will" to survive as any self-sustaining process does. If Life is self-sustaining process, then its desire to survive is explained. – Yordan Yordanov Feb 26 '17 at 23:11

AnarKi, your question is actually quite valid. I would also point out that there were several answers here trying to disprove your idea that there is a survival aspect occurring... however here is my response...

From scientific, historical and biological observation, one can observe there is a survival aspect to living organisms, not in non living matter. Their main striving is to survive whether as a single unit or as a familial unit or as a group unit and as an ever widening sphere. All microcosms survive as their main thrust but we also find that all matter does not have this built into their structure or DNA or otherwise.

So the difference to note firstly, is that matter, which is defined as anything that has mass in the physical universe, has the survival tendency observable only in those that have a living or being 'alive' aspect to them. For example, a rock formation does not have a survival tendency, it decays at a slow rate however it does not reproduce or have what is recognized as 'life' as part of its molecular structure, it does not do things that show or are observable that it is trying to survive. Whereas a tree is recognized as something that is surviving or having 'life'. A tree does reproduce and will show signs of working towards survival, ie: turning or twisting to get better sunlight etc. So the first scientific, biological and otherwise viewable aspect of 'survival' is related to things that can be seen or observed to have some 'living' or 'life' aspect to them, even as minute as microcosms. One can then start looking at how the survival mechanism works or is doing whatever it does with a higher echelon of survival etc as a different discussion. And as well why there is a survival aspect even occurring...


There are two reasons to decide to stay alive:

  1. You feel/suffer any kind of malaise which shows you your body, because else you might die (hunger, thirst, coldness etc) AND then you decide to get rid of that feelings and do something against it. So its not clear decision to survive, but more a wish not to suffer.

  2. You clearly know you want to survive, because there are things on earth you want to experience. You imagine to become more happy if you can do that. So there is wish to be able to do that. You might work hard, you might do things other people would not or a "simple life" is OK for you to be able to get that experience.

Unlike most animals, people are more lead by the second one and there are people who do not want to be on earth, but stil try to live or suicide.

If you allow me a personal note:

Any kind of life on earth is linked with sorrow. I am convinced that we are able to recognise the reasons of sorrow and can to get rid of hate, greed (or any wish) and infatuation - that would mean to reach the highest happyness a human can reach on earth. (My reason to stay alive, beside few other things.)


It is not necessary to survive. The keyword here is "necessary". Necessary to whom? When you use the word "necessary" you are implying that there must be someone doing a desiring that a particular entity continues to exists.

For instance, A parent might find it necessary its offspring's survival necessary. In the absence of child's parents or anyone that cares about him/her it is not necessary for the child to survive because nobody does the desiring(except for the child itself of course).We think it is not necessary for anything to happen because we humans do the desiring. In the absence of any desires nothing would be necessary (For instance if there were no intelligent entities). You can apply this logic in most of the areas where "desires" come in to play.

The other thing you mentioned about coding in the DNA well it does not necessarily have to be coded in the DNA. An AI could be given the same characteristics which lacks DNA. Speaking of biological creatures you could say it is coded in the DNA which later consequences in the production of hormones and neural pathways which wires us to think and feel that our existence is necessary and now coming to the "why is it coded?"

It is not the right question to ask. It was not coded out of purpose. It just so happens that there were pretty random events that took place in the gradual evolutionary processes and only those with the "It is necessary to exist" code survived and it replicated and reproduced and here we are. There might as well have been other life forms which other codes but they didn't and could not survive because they didn't have "It is necessary to exist" codes.

It just so happens in all these random evolutionary events our gene survived and the rest didn't. It didn't occur due to a purpose rendering the "why" question obsolete.

The was I see it is (At least on earth) there was no life for 99.9999999% of cosmic time scale so we might as well continue to exist since the universe was utterly procrastinating to create us and we finally have received a ticket.

  • We are looking for answers based on sources. Your answer seems to be a simple narrative and expression of our opinion. Can you improve the answer according to the outlines presented in the help center? – Philip Klöcking Jan 28 '17 at 17:49

The instinct to strive for survival is built into the aim for mastery of environment. Every lifeform needs to manage its environment, from the basics of moving towards light to photosynthesize to hunting prey or synthesizing genetic vaccines and/or nuclear weapons.

Mastery of environment is the base drive. Once it is operational, survival follows without further volition. As the base drive, the drive for mastery is quite tricky. It is largely unconscious and has a flip-side. Obsessive compulsive behaviour arises from this drive, because the drive for mastery really is obsessive and compulsive, only usually that's a good thing, not pathological like OCD. For example, the urge to master a puzzle can become problematic when it interferes with other tasks. It can easily get out of control because of its unconscious dimension.

In life, the drive to master environment can spill over into invading others' environments. Whether this is called pathological or fair-game warrior behaviour is a moot point. Freud wrote about the (obsessive) repetition compulsion and Thanatos, the death (war) drive. Derrida took Freud's theories further in The Postcard, specifically in the essay To Speculate--on "Freud", an extended commentary on Beyond the Pleasure Principle. In the essay Derrida concluded that Freud's death drive is the flip-side of the life drive and drew equivalences to Nietzsche's Will to Power.

Here is a quote from To Speculate--on "Freud". It's rather late in the essay so a lot of context is lost. Nevertheless, some flavour :-

Now, if such a drive for power exists, if it sees itself attributed a specificity, then it indeed has to be admitted that it plays a very original role in the most "meta-conceptual," "metalinguistic," precisely the most "dominant" organization of Freudian discourse. For it is indeed within the code of power, and this is not only metaphorical, that the problematic is lodged. It is always a question of knowing who is the "master," who "dominates," who has "authority," to what point the PP [pleasure principle] exercises power, how a drive can become independent of it or precede it, what are the relations of service between the PP and the rest, what we have called the prince and his subjects, etc. The "posts" are always posts of power. And power is exercised according to the network of posts. There is a society of drives, whether or not they are communally possible, and in the passage to which we have just referred (chapter VI), the dynamics of sadism are dynamics of power, dynamics of dynasty: a component drive must come to dominate the entirety of the body driven, and must subject this body to its regime; and if this suceeds, it is with the aim of exercising the violence of its domination over the object. And if this desire to dominate is exercised within as well as without, if it defines the relation to oneself as the relation to the other of the drives, if it has an "original" root, then the drive for power can no longer be derived. Nor can postal power. In its autoheterology, the drive for postal power is more originary than the PP and independent of it. But it equally remains the only one to permit the definition of a death drive, and for example an original sadism. In other words, the motif of power is more originary and more general than the PP, is independent of it, is its beyond. But it is not to be confused with the death drive or the repetition compulsion, it gives us with what to describe them, and in respect to them, as well as to a "mastery" of the PP, it plays the role of transcendental predicate. Beyond the pleasure principle—-power. That is, posts. But even so, we will not say, despite the transcendental function to which we have just alluded, beyond the death drive-—power—-or posts. For it is equally the case that everything described under the heading of the death drive or the repetition compulsion, although proceeding from a drive for power, and borrowing all its descriptive traits from this drive, no less overflows power. This is simultaneously the reason and the failure, the origin and the limit of power. There is power only if there is a principle or a principle of the principle. The transcendental or meta-conceptual function belongs to the order of power. Thus there is only différance of power. Whence the posts. Beyond all conceptual oppositions, Bemächtigung indeed situates one of the exchangers between the drive to dominate as the drive of the drive, and the "will to power."

(The Postcard, 1987, pages 404-405)

My comments are echoed in Robert Trumbull PhD dissertation, online here:

Derrida, Freud, Lacan: Resistances

The death drive ... is Freud’s attempt to envision a force present in the living, but antithetical to life, a drive opposed to the drives that sustain organic life. At the same time, Freud views this death or destruction drive as a type of aggressivity central to the formation culture. Tracking Derrida’s thinking on the death drive across his work, I demonstrate how this figure and the notion of “life death” it suggests come to be at the center of Derrida’s engagement with Freud. Through close readings of Derrida’s work, I trace how he reads Freud’s writing against itself, locating there something Freud himself does not entirely think through.

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