Is war “natural”? Are we always self-interested and drawn to compete with one another if there are spoils to be gained? Why do we fight? Is there a genetic basis for violence? Must law and order be imposed rigidly to keep violence in check?
Or are we naturally peaceful and go to war only when we have lost our way? Has competition for resources and hyperbolic misunderstanding of the world’s religions and cultures caused us to forget the harmony of the first people?
Whether in the blood of reality or the fantasy of virtuality, today we seem to be locked in perpetual conflict. But after 100 million war deaths in the 20th century, there is strong evidence that we are becoming more peaceful. Violence is no longer easily tolerated. War is increasingly an illegitimate means of solving disputes between people and societies.
The Romans thought of war as always glorious—to soldier and empire. But we now apply moral terms to conflicts. If some wars are morally necessary, unnecessary wars are morally reprehensible. Can there be a “just” war? If yes, what would make it so? And is peace merely an absence of war, or is it a state of equality, autonomy, and human flourishing?
With wise words from Plato, Margaret Mead, Sigmund Freud, Barack Obama, and more, this course examines philosophical perspectives on peace and conflict, including what our conflicts say about us and what can we do today to achieve a more peaceful tomorrow.
Joel K. Jensen, Ph.D. University of Colorado, Denver; M.A., University of Colorado, Boulder, is a professor of philosophy at North Hennepin Community College, where he teaches courses in ethics, logic, peace, and the environment. He is the author of There Exists an X, X is a Sandwich (Sandwich Bar Press, 2012).