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.

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    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. – Swami Vishwananda 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 – Frank Hubeny Dec 24 '17 at 20:20
  • @SwamiVishwananda Your observation about ants makes me think that the realist position about species is correct. – Frank Hubeny 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. – Swami Vishwananda 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.

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  • 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. – Frank Hubeny 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. – Canadian Coder Dec 24 '17 at 0:10

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