Although this may seem as a trivial question (not a trivial answer) I think to fully understand the question takes some serious thinking.

Here I don't mean symbiosis as just existing near each other, I mean a form of mutualism. Many aquatic species experience this.

When considering the concept of enforced symbiosis - think of a governmental society where taxes are enforced for the good of everyone else.

Please avoid turning this into a political debate. I'm simply asking if enforced symbiosis is still considered a symbiosis.

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    I'm curious where you found this term "symbiosis" in a philosophical context. I almost thought this was a biology question but it appears to be a social contract theory question under the veil of a new term? – stoicfury Nov 30 '11 at 16:56
  • Well I was trying to find a term that describes animals working together. Perhaps I overgoogled it. – Mikhail Nov 30 '11 at 17:17
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    @Mikhail: Is "Slavery" an example of "enforced symbiosis" or not ? – c69 Dec 3 '11 at 11:33
  • @c69, no because the slave owners did not force this action thinking it'll be best for everyone. – Mikhail Dec 5 '11 at 3:50
  • @Mikhail I don't think that's a good reason to reject slavery as an example (though I do not know if it is one, after all), because neither do animals do it out of generosity or altruistic reasons, there is no reasoning involved in biological cases. – iphigenie Apr 12 '13 at 21:53

It seems like you've already answered your own question, except I'm not sure it's typically called "symbiosis". The term is usually used in biological contexts; I think you're interested in more basically the idea of a social contract where you agree to give up certain freedoms for greater security in society.

So, is there such a thing as enforced symbiosis?

Well, technically yes, but I'm not sure it's called that.

You also mention:

I'm simply asking if enforced symbiosis is still considered a symbiosis.

Well, to answer that: I'm not sure there is such a thing as unenforced symbiosis (when it comes to the human-based, "political" symbiosis you are referring to). To enforce means to compel obedience to, to impose, and virtually all social contracts are enforced via laws/rules/a moral code and some enforcing agency, whether that be the police, some particular leader's gang, or even mob rule (i.e. the rest of society). Thus, most cases of "symbiosis" in the sense you speak of is forced, although theoretically it doesn't have to be (and in terms of biology, it is almost never enforced).

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    Thank you for this detailed answer, and the comparison to social contract. The reason I used a biological term is because in biology it's observed unenforced. In real life I'm born into a contract, and in order to exit it I have to find a country without such contract and migrate. – Mikhail Nov 30 '11 at 17:20
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    Or start a revolution. :P – stoicfury Nov 30 '11 at 17:59
  • @Mikhail: It's not always unenforced in biology, either. Take the case of bees, for example, where an individual bee cannot survive long outside of the colony. (One could argue that this is not symbiosis, because it is within one species, but that raises a whole set of questions...) – Michael Dorfman Nov 30 '11 at 19:10
  • @MichaelDorfman: Yes sir, it has to be between different species, in any sense of the word symbiosis. Still, you may be correct in that some suggest parasitism is a form of symbiosis, and that would be very enforced. – stoicfury Nov 30 '11 at 21:47
  • @stoicfury: The question then becomes, how do we define a "species" when the traditional notions ("a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring") don't apply to the vast majority of the members (that is to say, most of the bees in question are incapable of breeding, full stop.) – Michael Dorfman Dec 1 '11 at 7:45

The answer seems to be yes, from my understanding of the question.

Taking the example of the tragedy of the commons, a group of people might jointly decide to hire a guard to make sure that none of use to much of a common resource. If they pay for the privilege, it shows that they benefit, and given that they are the ones who decided it, this seems to be sufficient evidence to prove symbiosis. Their individual actions are being controlled, making it enforced.

Looking at it this way, it is symbiosis as long as they would prefer to have this guard.

Does that answer your question?


@mikhail: Kisho Kurakawa published a book entitled "The Philosophy of Symbiosis", in the 1950's. He was part of a forward thinking group of architects, designers, and artists who were rebuilding Japan after WWII. The name of the group was Metabolism, which is interesting in and of itself because of the symbiotic relationship humans have with the enzymes and other good bacteria in our own intestines.

  • You should maybe consider explaining why that book answers the question, supply a summary or list the main points the author makes instead of just supplying the source. That would probably result in more upvotes of your answer, because readers could actually comprehend its relevance. – iphigenie Apr 12 '13 at 20:41

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