Daniel Quinn: Law of Limited Competition

* Quinn / Great Thinkings: Law of Limited Competition.

Law of Limited Competition.

Daniel Quinn / Great Thinkings | 03 Nov 2007


A subset of the Law of Life, the Law of Limited Competition was coined by author Daniel Quinn to denote a set of strategies that appear to be evolutionarily stable for all species.

Briefly, the Law of Limited Competition is this: You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food.

This system of laws has been called among other things, “the peacekeeping law” and “animal ethics.” The Law of Limited Competition promotes diversity.

Quinn argues that the people of our culture believe the law does not apply to humans. Quinn further argues that this thinking is incorrect, that the laws do apply to man, and that by our civilization being built in a way which flouts the law, the stability of the community of life has been compromised, and that we are in the process of eliminating ourselves.

As an analogy, Quinn presents the idea of someone trying to build an airplane, but whose craft is not in accord with the laws of aerodynamics. He drives it off the edge of the cliff, and for some time is in free-fall. During this time he says “look, I am flying! Gravity does not apply to me!”, but shortly he will discover that gravity does apply to him, and in a most drastic manner.

Similarly, says Quinn, the people of our civilization are not living in accord with the Law of Limited Competition and are therefore facing a crash.

Conceptually, and within the contexts of evolution and limited resources, the Law of Limited Competition works as follows:

Consider three hypothetical species. Species 1 is omnivorous, and eats food sources A, B, and C. Species 2, is herbivorous, and eats food sources B, C, and D. Species 3 is a carnivorous apex predator, and eats food source A, as well as species 1 and 2.

According to the Law of Limited Competition, any of these three species may compete to the full extent of their abilities, but may not eradicate its competitors, or deny them access to food. In short, they may compete, but not wage war. If the law is broken, sustainability of any of the species is put in jeopardy.

If, in an effort to eliminate competition from species 2, species 1 denies access to or destroys food source D, which it does not eat, species 2 will be forced to rely on food sources B and C, increasing competition for the common food sources for both species, and consequently, reducing two of the food sources for species 3, as well as increasing competition for food source A. Sustainability for all three species has been jeopardized.

If, however, species 2, in an effort to eliminate competition for food sources B and C, attempts to eradicate species 1, increased predation by species 3 will result. Again, all three species suffer reduced sustainability.

Because of the population limiting characteristics of the law, species which violate its precepts are disadvantaged and thus, according to Quinn, doomed to extinction.
– Great Thinkings: Law of Limited Competition.