Peace Studies Epistemology: Descartes-Vico-Daoism

EDITORIAL, 7 Sep 2015

#392 | Johan Galtung

Keynote, European Peace Research Association – Tromsö, Norway, 7 Sep 2015

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with valid knowledge; and the focus of this conference is peace in Europe. We live in a wonderful world blessed with many civilizations each with an epistemology, and in a continent with rich diversity. My task is to draw on some of this, and apply it to the peace politics of Europe.

René Descartes, in Discours de la Méthode, Leiden 1637, had four basic rules; accepted, mainly unwittingly, by (North)Western science:

  1. never to accept anything for true not clearly known to be such;
  2. to divide difficulties examined into as many parts as possible;
  3. start with the simplest and easiest, ascend to the more complex, pay attention to the asymmetric relation of antecedence and sequence;
  4. make enumerations and reviews to assure that nothing was omitted.

Giambattista Vico, in Scienza Nuova, Napoli 1725: anti-Descartes for only reflecting empirical reality, not human ability to create new reality. Vico is a macro-historian, inspiring Marx, with three stages in human history, divine-heroic-human, envisaged by “poets” in the Greek sense of “creators”. He became the guru of historians, easily making the mistake of focusing only on the creativity of the powerful.

Daoism, thousands of years old, views reality in terms of holism and dialectics: for anything studied always ask what it is a part of, a holon, and what that is a part of. In anything alive there will be dialectics of forces and counterforces. Humans without contradictions are corpses, dead; reality is an ever-moving symmetric contradiction of yin and yang, and the yin and the yang in the yin and the yang, &c.

  • Cartesianism subdivides, dissects human beings down to cells and beyond, nature down to atoms and beyond, societies to individuals;
  • daoism does just the opposite, sees everything as parts of ever bigger wholes;
  • and Vico sees reality as changeable by creation, imagination.

Peace studies are well served by all three, badly by only one.

We need the big view, not only human body parts but minds and spirits, not only individuals but with family and social settings to understand illness and wellness. We need the minute details of how it all is and relates. We need the goals of actors and parties and how they relate: incompatible, contradictory in conflicts, compatible in cooperation; and how conflict or cooperation somewhere affects the same holons they are parts of to understand violence and peace.

We must think both small and big. And be creative for change in addition to empirical, checking what is and what came out of our creative visions.

However, the three epistemologies easily become ideologies.

Cartesianism may lead a Margaret Thatcher to “there is no such thing as a society, only individuals”, further on to a US construct, societies with only one inhabitant, Castro, Kim Il Sung, Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Putin–interpreting “antecedent” as leader–and to their self-image as leading the world of states in a world empire.

Daoism leads to a grand view that may be so grand that it leads to apathy. It was the Middle Kingdom surrounded by North-East-South-West Barbarians; now changed to the holon of Han China, in a holon of the “Chinese pocket” bordered by Himalaya-Gobi-Tundra-Sea, in a holon where China has only been on the silk roads and the important (silk) sea lane from East China to East Africa, 500-1500 AD. Chinese foreign policy today recreates roads and lanes, adding railroads and flights, internet and energy, infrastructure; linking the world symmetrically in silk cocoons; bridging the Eur-Asian Afro-Asian holons.

Eur-Africa? Forces: slavery, colonialism, robbery; counter-force: a Völkerwanderung from all over Arica, millions, to settle in Europe.

Vico’s creationism may be for its own sake, with unlimited innovation, splitting atoms, splitting brains and DNA, arts in any direction.

Peace studies enter with peace as a goal, through creative equity, harmony, trauma conciliation, conflict solution and much more.

Turning to Europe: cartesianism offers subdivision into state and individual actors, with leading states and individuals as antecedent facts. The Europe and world images as reflected by the media; adding as key focus the negative, illness and death, violence and war. Tragedy.

Daoism offers a European holon with relations-structures and key contradictions like the division of the Roman Empire in 395 into Catholic West and Orthodox East. The Templars converted in the East, and two Western psychopaths, narcissistic and paranoid, Napoleon and Hitler, attacked the Orthodox center Moscow. Napoleon entered with 600.000, returned with 60,000; Hitler lost World War II in the East.

U-kraina means at the border; Greece is on the East; with wrong Christianity and alphabet treated worse than the more indebted Italy.

And the North-South faultlines after the collapse of the West Roman empire in 476 and Visigoth, Easigoth and Muslim conquests: a Europe with Protestant Northwest, Catholic Southwest–some for 800 years under Muslim rule–Orthodox Northeast, and a Muslim Southeast. The first became democratic at home and colonialist overseas–the German part Nazi, genocidal and colonialist in Russia–the second fascist, the third communist, and the fourth more or less Muslim.

Creationism can bridge faultlines with equity and harmony, can solve or transform conflicts–blunting contradictions for parties to handle them themselves without violence–concile traumas. But how?

Generally by realizing 17 Sustainable Peace Goals; the obvious sequel to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals the UN is launching after the failure of the 15 Millennium Goals. One is inclusion in a region: NATO did that militarily and EC-EU economically-politically across North-South. However, across East-West, with the Greek, Ukrainian, USA-EU-Russia crises there is only the weak OSCE-Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

A new region is needed, and the name comes from Gorbachev who ended the Cold War: The European House. For both, see attachments below.


17 Sustainable Peace Goals: The TRANSCEND Approach

1 Cooperation with Equity Indispensable
2 Harmony with Empathy Indispensable
3 Institutionalization Useful if peaceful
4 Fusion to one actor If a peaceful actor
5 Transmission to others Sustainable afterlife
6 Conflict solution with transcendence Indispensable
7 Trauma conciliation with closure Indispensable
8 Remove structural violence motivation Indispensable
9 Remove cultural violence justification Indispensable
10 World Rule of Law-Human Rights-Democracy Not as sum of states
11 Regionalization, United Regions Across state borders
12 Localization, United Communities Across state borders
13 Disarmament to States without armies Never attacked
14 Transarmament to Defensive Defense Never attacking
15 Peace Education Peace Journalism To make peace visible
16 Gender and generation parity To involve everybody
17 From conflict to cooperation practice Linking the positives


A EUROPEAN HOUSE: 5 NO to Ramstein and 5 YES to Europe

I fully endorse:

NO to the USA for using Ramstein as the basis of their drone wars;

NO to Ramstein’s satellite relay station;

NO to the purchase of combat drones to the Bundeswehr;

NO to the acquisition of combat drones for military;

NO to the illegal spying of NSA in cooperation with BND from Ramstein.


And add to that for a German foreign policy to Europe:

YES to a European House from the Atlantic to the Pacific, bridging the deep faultline/border between Catholic-Protestant and Orthodox Europe: keeping Russia in, USA-Canada–not European–at a friendly distance, and keeping Germany neither up nor down, but like all others;

YES to the neutrality of countries at the border, Ukraine and Georgia, maybe as federations accommodating linguistic-religious differences, with the parts cooperating smartly with each other;

YES to Germany (and others) reconciling for wars and colonialism, not only for war crimes, particularly for being the major cause of 27 million WWII deaths in the Soviet Union, and the 1904 genocide against the Herrero in “German Southwest Africa”, today Namibia;

YES to reducing tensions between NATO and SCO-Shanghai Cooperation Organization through transarmament, to ever more non-offensive, non-provocative, short range arms, for strictly defensive defense of own territory, UN-monitored;

YES to structural and cultural peace in the European Union, to no gap between creditor and debtor members; to debt forgiveness; no to others being lazy in need of austerity; no to buying the direct peace of war being unthinkable at the expense of structural and cultural violence.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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