I suspect a biological imperative describes something that every member of a species has to do or have to survive to keep the species going. If we talk about a biological imperative with respect to the species itself, then not every member of the species need be involved. But would this require the biological existence of the species?

Here are two scenarios. The first I have no problem with. The second may require the existence of species.

First: Every member of our species needs oxygen to survive. So having oxygen is a biological imperative.

Second: Not every member of a species has to or can procreate. So procreation is not a biological imperative for members of a species. From the perspective of the species, procreation might be a biological imperative. However, doesn’t something have to biologically exist to have a biological imperative?

I suspect there are subtleties I am missing here which is why I am asking the question. Also I am trying to get more clarity on whether I should expect a species to actually exist and not simply be one label in a taxonomy.

  • 1
    a priori - in order to be a species it must exist or have existed. Individuals of a species may not exhibit all that is needed for a species to survive, but the species collectively has. Example - only a queen ant actually produces offspring, but collective is needed for the species to survive. Dec 24 '17 at 4:41
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    We don't really know what a species is. It's not obvious that a species is a natural kind or object at all.
    – Canyon
    Dec 24 '17 at 8:14
  • @Canyon I agree which is why I'm asking the question. I tend to be a realist regarding species based on the article you cited: link Dec 24 '17 at 20:20
  • @SwamiVishwananda Your observation about ants makes me think that the realist position about species is correct. Dec 24 '17 at 20:23
  • 'Species' is part of the taxonomical classification system that has been developed by biologists simply to define how groups of living things (current or past) relate biologically to each other in terms of evolution and genetics. Asexual species produce members only of their species. Sexual species can only produce offspring capable of reproduction only when reproducing with members of their own species. Dec 26 '17 at 10:31

You're misunderstanding the term.

The biological imperative does not mean organisms have to do particular things, it means that there are certain.. we'll say, something like natural laws which guide how we understand living things, and how living things are likely to behave.

In a nutshell, the biological imperative is the idea that living things exist to produce copies of themselves. A few corollaries of this imperative are that living things also need to both survive, and find mates to produce those copies, in addition to whatever properties stem from that.

As a scientific term, then, it is an important concept because everything else about the biology of an organism ties back to this imperative. Everything about you, everything you do, how your brain works, is ultimately aimed at surviving, reproducing, and creating copies of yourself. So when scientists study an organism, they make the assumption that this is the purpose of any evolved features.

For most animals this imperative is bullet-proof and always plays itself out. Where humans differ is that we've adapted a strong ability to adapt to new things, which can include our own desire for reproduction. Still, though, our bodies will usually be inclined to seek out partners, make money, and survive, regardless of whether we actually produce children.

In sum, there is nothing we have to do, it is an imperative that any biological organism is oriented toward survival and reproduction.

  • If procreation is an imperative I expect it to be as deterministic on either members of a species or the species itself just as much as needing oxygen is for members of our species. If it is bullet-proof and always plays itself out I expect it to be as deterministic as needing oxygen. I see no reason why we are exceptions. My question is whether procreation is an imperative on species since it is not on members implying the biological existence of species. An alternative would be that procreation is not a biological imperative, but I would need some explanation for that. Dec 23 '17 at 23:53
  • I suspect you're applying the term incorrectly. The biological imperative does not apply to species. You could apply the concept to a species, but it would be a different term, with a different definition. Furthermore, the biological imperative is not an imperative that some conditions must be met, it is an imperative that some conditions are always true of biological organisms. At least that is my understanding of the term. Dec 24 '17 at 0:10
  • "Copies" is fairly inadequate phrasing for sexual reproduction. See also "the selfish gene".
    – Fizz
    Apr 9 at 1:47
  • "Everything about you, [...] is ultimately aimed at surviving, reproducing, and creating copies of yourself." This kind of teleological view is imho a misrepresentation of evolutionary biology and ethology. There is no biological "aim" of survival or reproduction, merely the fact that individuals who don't have the tendency and ability to survive and reproduce disappear without transmitting their genes. As we are the byproducts of this ability and drive to reproduce, we usually inherit it, but there is no imperative. Human wombs are not "aimed" at reproduction, they merely happen to allow it.
    – armand
    Apr 9 at 3:18
  • You're arguing semantics, the basic point is that survival/reproduction is the primary heuristic to understand the evolution of living organisms. It's not about an 'imperative' that we must behave in certain way, it's about an 'imperative' that all life and evolved features are adapted to this purpose. That's the point of my answer. Apr 9 at 14:45

A biological imperative is simply a necessary thing required for the survival of the individual and/or species. Breathing is obviously a biological imperative, but so is eating and sleeping, for energy is required for survival. Quality of life is part of this as well but only in as much that it doesn't go against any other part of the biological imperative. For example, if one gained pleasure from going against the biological imperative (thus subjectively increasing "quality of life") it could be disordered. One wouldn't be said to be disordered if it was through the choice of will (or for a specific purpose) like fasting or simply staying up late as opposed to this naturally occurring (thus psychologically linked) like anorexia or insomnia. This is because one's quality of life should be in accordance with what will perpetuate your/your species' existence or simply not be a hindrance to it. One could determine if something is against the biological imperative if everyone were to have this thing and the population of the species would cease or come close to ceasing. For example, if everyone was anorexic...the entire world would take a massive hit considering anorexia people are about 5 times more likely to die than those without eating disorders. One could argue that we would eventually die out, for women with this type of eating disorder experience more issues with pregnancy which, needless to say, is essential for human survival. And that's only if they get pregnant for studies show that fertility decreases with the presence of eating disorders for both men and women. Procreation, or reproduction, is part of our biological imperative for without this process...we couldn't continue to exist. We would eventually die out. If one's brain was against the process of reproduction, like being against the process of eating and getting sleep, it would be against the biological imperative. Once again this is different if it's by choice of will like simply not wanting kids or being abstinent/celibate (like how fasting isn't the same as being anorexic). Just as an anorexic person can still eat while mentally being against the biological imperative of eating, likewise an asexual person may still have sex although their brain is against the process. The point of sex is to reproduce so it makes sense that part of this process is being sexually attracted to the thing that makes this possible (even pleasurable). We humans are heterosexual creatures, not asexual.

After considering these facts of life, we can conclude that our biological imperative includes breathing, drinking water, eating, sleeping, and reproduction. I would also argue that the "fight or flight" response to possible dangers is also part of this biological imperative for these are done for the purpose of survival. The question now is: Is the protection of others for their survival also part of the biological imperative? I would say yes, but this would have to apply only to the survival of the species since it doesn't necessarily perpetuate one's own existence.

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