Comparing Galtung’s Theory of Conflict Resolution with Freud’s Psychoanalytical Theory


Prof. Antonino Drago | CIC-Cuadernos de Información y Comunicación - TRANSCEND Media Service


The present paper compares Galtung’s theory of conflict resolution with Freud’s psychoanalytical theory. The basic notions of this comparison are the “adjunction” and the transference. Freud’s description of the inner conflict resolution is first interpreted by the adjunction of one person (Analyst) to the patient. A specific triad of Galtung’s kind results; Next, Freud’s description given in the paper Die Vereiningung (1925) is interpreted as a dynamic process of non-classical logic. The comparison with Galtung’ theory suggests some shortages of the latter one.          

Johan Galtung

  1. Freud and Galtung

A century ago and half Sigmund Freud’ therapeutical and theoretical attention to human inner conflicts was an extraordinary event within the history of Western society, where the conflicts were usually solved by struggles unto the suppression of the adversary; as a fact, Western society experienced a lot of conflicts but its culture was unable to theorize them.

         By breaking a long tradition of metaphysical conceptions of person’s interior conflicts Freud started a theory and a therapy of this kind of conflicts. Living within a society where both the electroshock was a common therapy and the suppression of weaker persons was considered almost a social necessity, Freud’s kind of resolution was new: to look for a non-violent solution. It anticipated the non-violent method of conflict resolution, whose Mohandas K. Gandhi’s leadership of the Indian movement for political independence was the highest historical event.

After him, some decades elapsed before a conflict was defined in general terms. Johan Galtung suggested that a conflict is an A-B-C[i]; that means that a conflict is composed by three dimensions, substantially defined as follows (Since in Galtung’s writings this definition may change, I fixed it according to the following notions): An assumptions, B Behavior and C interior contradiction[ii]. The triadic nature of a conflict gives reason of the absence of a Western theorizing on it; since Greek’s times, Western thinking is confined to conceive single ideas or at most two opposed ideas (e.g. true/false, good/evil, proletariat/bourgeoisie, etc.); never it conceived three ideas coalescing into one idea (apart the idea of Christian Trinity, on which however the reflections are inconclusive owing to some unsolved oxymora[iii]).

Galtung’s definition covers all kind of conflicts, from the wars (e.g. Clausewitz’ theory of war) to the social conflicts (e.g. Marx’ theory of class struggle), the interpersonal conflicts and the inner conflicts. The last case will be illustrated with respect to Freud psychoanalysis.

Sigmund Freud

  1. The roles played by the Patient and the Analyst

The three dimensions of a conflict parallel the three theoretical objects described in a “personified” way by Freud, respectively: Super-Ego, Ego, Id. The parallelisms of the first two are manifest; the third, C, is the result of Id’s pulsions which are in contradiction either among themselves or with Super-Ego and/or Ego.

However, a definition of Freud’s psychoanalysis as a scientific theory is controversial because some usual criteria for recognizing a theory as a scientific one fail: experimental basis, falsifiability, operationism, assured principles or axioms, etc. In my opinion the problem is worsened by the common tenet that only a formulation of a theory as a deductive- axiomatic assures to it a dignity of a science. As a historian of science I performed a comparative analysis of all the scientific theories – in Logic, Mathematics, and Physics: (Lazare Carnot in mechanics, geometry and calculus, S. Carnot in thermodynamics, Lobachevsky in non-Euclidean geometry, Galois in his algebraic theory, Klein in group theory of geometries, Einstein in his 1905 paper on quanta, etc.) – which have been presented by their respective authors in a different way from the deductive one, as e.g. Euclid’s one and Newton’s one are. I obtained an alternative model of the organization of a theory. Its first step is to be based not on axioms from which derive all results, rather on a problem, whose resolution requires discovering a new scientific method. I call it a problem-based organization (PO). The four next steps of its theoretical development will be presented in the following.

         Let us now consider Freud’s therapy. It adds to a person suffering an inner conflict (the Patient) one more person (the Analyst); in other words, it doubles the person taking care of the conflict of the original system. In terms of persons, this is a least generalization performed by means of the adjunction of one person. Why? Because an adjunction simplifies the search for a solution of the problem – as Lazare Carnot suggested it about a mathematical system: “To generalize is to simplify”[iv]. The adjunction starts a cyclical process. Once this solution is obtained, in order to come back to the original system, being equipped with the wanted solution, one has to put aside in a formally correct way the adjunction.

Several founders of scientific theories of not-axiomatic kind have applied this method[v]. Also the first non violent person in Europe, Aldo Capitini, founded his philosophical theory of non-violence by applying exactly the notion of “adjuction”[vi]. Also Galtung explains a non-violent conflict resolution by means of an adjunction; as an instance he suggests the well-known tale of the three sons inheriting 17 camels, to be parted in the proportions of ½, 1/3 and 1/9. The rebus (of dividing e.g. 17 by 2) is solved by the adjunction of one camel, which at the end of the wanted divisions can be freed, leaving to the three brothers respectively 9, 6 and 2 camels, whose addition is exactly 17. In the case of Freud’s therapy also the above suggested adjunction is aimed at making easier the search of the solution of the illness. Once the wanted solution is obtained, the (interaction with the) Analyst is left by mutual agreement by the healed up Patient[vii].

But what is this interaction? Freudian therapy rationalizes a component of the therapy, i.e., the transference between Patient and Analyst. In order to explain it I double Galtung’s triad A-B-C in correspondence to previous adjunction. Now we have to think through a complex system of six dimensions in their cooperative interaction; at glance it seems an obscure process.

However, under a closer inspection the situation is simple. In his interactions with the Patient the Analyst actually suppresses his B, apart his behavior of speaking in a gentle way, so much to never hurt or shocking the Patient. In other words, Analyst’s B is reduced to suggesting merely appealing ideas, which could be considered by the Patient as coming not from a different person, but from himself, like any new idea which born in his mind or any his inner feeling. Patient’s B instead is present; this behavior is of a soft nature, because he merely talks on his unconscious life, as dreaming and similar experiences; and moreover Patient does it without responsibilities or even without awareness.

Patient’s A is made at all silent. Instead Analyst’s A is very present; it put in place his professional preparation and personal assumptions, his human experience of a mature person; and it interiorizes the contents of Patient’s verbal communications, elaborates these contents, takes decisions on his elaboration in order to eventually suggest (no more than) some hints to the Patient, aimed at opening his mind to productive novelties.

Moreover, along the time of a session Analyst’s A forces his C to simulate Patient’s C (Only outside the session the two actors have different C’s; in particular, Analyst’s C re-gains its freedom to interact with the other two Analyst’s dimensions A and B in order to support the elaboration of the material of the session; while Patient comes back to live his everyday life of mutual interaction of his three dimensions A, B and C).

Let us now consider the interactions of the two actors through the complex of their three dimensions. We see that, in the absence of Patient’s A, Analyst’s A interacts rarely and in a very soft way, although it plays a dominant role in orienting the interaction. In particular, their verbal communication is highly unbalanced: while the Analyst is almost silent, the colloquial behavior of the Patient (B) dominates their interaction; it occasions a lot of subjects of conversation through which the two persons interact. However, whereas Patient’s contribution is very great in quantity, but only occasionally relevant in quality; Analyst’s contribution is small in quantity, but is so much important in quality to be decisive in orienting their interaction.

Let us now notice that by superimposing the triads A-B-C of the two actors living a session of therapy, we obtain 1) a unique C, coming from the fusion of the C’s of both, 2) a unique B, i.e. (almost) only Patient‘s talk 3) and a unique A, i.e. Analyst’s orientation of the session. In sum, the interaction of the two persons defines an intimate, visceral symbiosis of two distinct persons through their common sharing a same C, plus only Patient’s B and only Analyst’s A. We may say that in total, they compose an “augmented person”. In sum, during a session the therapeutical process is experienced by two persons, but it works as a living experience of one person, the augmented one; therefore, it does not exit out the life of a human being. This fact guarantees that the therapy works as a sane human process. Evidence for this conclusion is given by the result of this superposition of the two A-B-C’s: the two persons gain a mutual and calm cooperation, encouraging them to have a mutual transference of feelings and even mutual love (C).

In conclusion, a crucial notion of Freud’s therapy is the transference process. In my opinion previous studies on it were defective because they considered this process in a vacuum. It is rather a conception of the human person that addresses the recognition of this therapeutic process. It is a complex of elements: fusion of the two C, living exchange of Patient’s dreams, Analyst’s stimuli, etc.

  1. The crucial role of the doubly negated propositions within Patient–Analyst’s verbal communication

         A more clear representation of this dynamics is given by the notion of a logical adjunction and the cycle of operation it generates. Fortunately we can exploit a very important Freud’s reflection about his therapeutical method, i.e. a short paper titled Die Verneinung (1925)[viii]. There, Freud explains that a linguistic negation represents an affective negation, i.e. a Patient’s repression of a psychical trauma, which occasionally slips out his inner repression and hence emerges into the objective world.

Freud remarks: “The negation is already a taking into account of the repressed trauma… yet it is not a [conscious] acceptation of it.” Therefore Freud invites Analyst to catch each negation of Patient’s talking; for instance: “It is not my mother [that I wanted to kill]”. From it Freud deduces an affirmative proposition: “Thus (German: Also), it is the mother”. This word (“Thus”) represents a strange kind of logical implication because Freud has no evidence for supporting this affirmative conclusion, at least because not all Patient’s negations refer to this element of his subconscious; as a fact, a Freudian therapy does not end at the first Patient’s negation. Moreover, it cannot be a single deduction – and even less a purely deductive process – which can address Analyst to a sure recognition of Patient’s trauma or whatsoever is at the origin of his illness. In addition, this Freud’s “deduction” is incorrect because at this step of the therapeutical process he correctly should rather advance no more than a suspect. As such, it has to be represented by a doubly negated proposition, i.e.: “It is not true that he did not want to kill his mother”.[ix]

Actually, in a retrospect view, we see that Freud’s illustration missed to explain through which kind of investigation an Analyst can transform a suspect into a productive hypothesis for recovering Patient’s well-being[x].

Let us remark that at Freud’ time no logician gave relevance to a doubly negated proposition. Yet, later this logical feature gained great relevance because it was proved that the failure of the double negated law (“Two negations do not affirm”) constitutes the best borderline between classical logic and intuitionist logic (or, more in general most non-classical kinds of logic)[xi]. Hence, when a text presents a doubly negated proposition which does not correspond in meaning to its corresponding affirmative proposition, it represents a case of failure of the double negation law and therefore it belongs to intuitionist logic (DNP). It is remarkable that the original text of each of the above listed scientific theories includes a lot of DNPs; also for this reason I suggested that the proposition to be built on Patient’s proposition is rather a DNP. Moreover, the suggestion of a DNP is justified also because classical logic, based on the bivalence principle (true/false in a mirror way), cannot deal with an idea composed by three dimensions, as a conflict is; it is this triadic nature of a conflict, i.e. the conflict caused by a trauma, that obliges Analyst to make use of non-classical logic.

Let us now come back to the above description of a therapeutic session. Actually, this description is of a static kind. The crucial step of Freud’s method is rather the following one: How Analyst can reason about a suspect on Patient’s trauma? Surely, Analyst has to compare all the elements in his possession for theorizing in an abstract way Patient’s interior situation and then answer to the following question: Does Analyst’s accumulations of elements of his analysis leads to compose a consistent framework with Patient’s personality and illness? Notice that Analyst cannot surely decide about the mutual consistency of two elements by deriving them from assured axioms, because here axioms are lacking. And even if some fixed points there existed, Analyst cannot attribute a logical deduction to Patient’s life, since the mind of the latter one is disturbed by illness.

Rather, notice that several DNPs may be linked together into an ad absurdum argument (AAA), as it occurs within the scientific theories of the above list. (It is not an objection that the content of a DNP is not circumscribed in a clear-cut way, because such is the nature of an inductive reasoning, like the reasoning within the above listed theories and also in Analyst’s method). Also Freud’s paper implicitly suggested an AAA, although not well formulated. Last propositions of the above quoted paper are aimed at validating previous analysis of the role played by negation in the analysis. For brevity’s and clarity’s sake I translate his propositions as follows: previous analysis is valid; otherwise a negation would come out the Id; that is absurd, because never this event has been discovered within the Id. The last proposition constitutes Freud’s methodological principle (it is comparable to a principle often applied in theoretical mechanics, i.e. the impossibility of a motion without an end).

Notice that in an AAA concerning a Patient’s life the absurd is represented neither by a general, unique absurdity, nor by a single method to decide the absurdity of something at issue, but by a specific absurdity of very strange situations which are peculiar to Patient’s illness. This specific absurdity characterizes a kind of logic which is weaker than not only classical logic, but also intuitionist one: it is the minimal logic[xii]. This characterization of the peculiar kind of logic in Freud’s analyses gives reason of one more difficulty met by scholars wanting understand the transfert: minimal logic is rarely used.

The conclusion of an AAA, again a DNP, may work as a premise of a next AAA. These AAAs compose a chain of arguments, as it occurs in some of the above listed scientific theories (Sadi Carnot’s thermodynamics 1824, Lobachevsky non-Euclidean geometry 1840, Kolmogorov’s theory of intuitionist logic 1932). Hence, we can conceive that also Analyst can reason through a chain of AAAs in order to step-by-step build a theoretical framework of Patient’s inner situation. The historical novelty of Freudian method was to have made this logical reasoning a systematic practice scattered in innumerable therapies which were peculiar to very different psychical illnesses.

  1. The final step: Analyst’s application of Leibniz’ principle of sufficient reason

         At last, a chain of AAAs obtains a conclusion which is again a DNP. As next step the theoretical development of each of the above-mentioned scientific theories presents an application of the principle of sufficient reason[xiii].

The application of this principle translates the final DNP into the corresponding affirmative proposition, which, only because it is affirmative, can be tested with reality. This translation implies a change of the kind of logic, from the non-classical one to the classical one[xiv], i.e. from an inductive search to deductive derivations.

Therefore the application of PSR does not belong to any specific kind of logic; it is rather the translation between two kinds of logic; as such it cannot be a rational implication; rather it is an extra-rational act. It is a logical translation from the likelihood into a real world, In Analyst’s practice it is a vital act, including a faith in the rationality of the world, or in the common human nature. It is an appeal to a meta-scientific world. Here the PSR is a vital act; it is an attribution of the rationality of our mind to reality.

In the past the PSR was applied to various subjects, but it obtained also metaphysical and unrealistic conclusions. However the paper of a scientist (Andrej Markov) founding the theory of constructive numbers declared this logical step in his theory; moreover he suggested two constraints that in his opinion avoid uncontrolled results: the final DNP has to be the conclusion of a previous AAA and decidable. They apparently represent the strictest criteria one can impose to the passage from the realm of the possible to the real world.

Let us investigate whether these constraints apply to Freud’s method. 1) To be derived from an AAA: a correct Analyst’s reasoning should draw a conclusion from some AAAs that he should build about his knowledge of Patient and previous Freud’s methodological principle. 2) Decidability: surely the material of a dream does not constitute a decidable matter: rather, Analyst has to refer to both Patient’s objective behavior, i.e. past actions, and already discovered traumas of Patient’s life.

By summarizing, after having elaborated some AAAs constituting a consistent theoretical reasoning on Patient’s (disturbed) personality, Analyst applies the principle of sufficient reason to his final DNP; he obtains an hypothesis which, only because it is affirmative, can be tested with reality by wondering whether it explains Patient’s past and present life. Now Analyst reasons no longer in an inductive way, rather from his reasoned hypothesis he explains in a deductive way all what Patient has said within the sessions about his past life.

In conclusion, I stress that Analyst’s work is not only the result of a human empathy towards Patient, but rather a reasoning according to a sophisticated method, which actually reiterates the ideal model of some scientific theories suggested centuries ago. The above mentioned chain of AAAs manifests the highly speculative nature of Analyst’s work of interpretation. However, his professional capability consists mainly in recognizing the best moment for applying the principle of sufficient reason. At last he obtains a scientific theory, although a theory of a not axiomatic kind, and of a very particular field of experiences, those pertaining to the inner world of only one person.

  1. Galtung’s theory of conflict resolution and the PSR

Above comparison of Galtung’s theory of conflict resolution with Freud’s theory of resolution of inner conflicts suggests some considerations.

1) Galtung suggests to accumulate triads characterizing several aspects of a conflict, e.g. the violent, non-violent, deep, apparent, manifest etc, However, since the definition of a conflict through a triad is of a static nature, all these aspects are descriptions, do not represent the most relevant point of a process of a conflict resolution, its dynamics. In my opinion, it is not much relevant to apply more triads than the number of conflict’ actors; two and even more three triads are already a complex system to be dealt with in view of characterizing their dynamical interaction.

2) Galtung suggests one element of a conflict dynamics, adjunction. However, he did not make clear in general where it has to be located and how it may generate a dynamics. In Freud’s theory we have two instances of adjunction which generate two dynamics, leading together to solve the conflict. The first adjunction (adjunction of a person) is similar to a case considered by Galtung: the adjunction of a mediator in the case of two actors’ conflict[xv]. Only in this case Galtung suggests a dynamical process composed by a long list of steps, which are managed by the mediator on the basis of the two actors’ trusts in him. The steps of this process do not include adjunctions, apart clever ideas of the mediator:

3) Per se Galtung’s triadic representation of a conflict excludes classical logic; otherwise we could reduce each triad to a list of (antagonistic) couples, whose parts are characterized in black and white, Truth and False, yes or not. Yet, Galtung has no suggestion for exiting out classical logic; he does not refer to non-classical logic, nor makes use of DNPs[xvi].

4) In Freud’s theory the non-violent dynamics is mainly given by the application of the PSR, which is a creative process of the Analyst, aimed at achieving a non-violent resolution. This lesson and the previous lesson are the great, but commonly ignored, two lessons of Freud’s theory. In general, the non violent resolution of a conflict has to include PSR as its hard core, because it makes creative and unrepeatable this process, otherwise the resolution of this conflict would be a mechanical computation. Unfortunately, all theories of conflict ignore this point. Truly, one may see PSR in Galtung’s appeal to transcendence. But, what is the exact meaning of this word?

5) The application of PSR may give a realistic process only if it is supported by the fulfillment of the two Markov requirements on the conclusion of the arguing on the entire situation: it has to be decidable and to result from an ad absurdum argument. To my knowledge, no theory of non-violent resolution mentions similar requirements on the arguing of the non-violent actor.

In conclusion, the above comparison qualifies Galtung’s theory of conflict resolution as an impressive advancement of this theory: its birth through its basic definitions and its representations. Overall, he has overcome all descriptions of conflicts in only subjective and only objective terms; through his triad he has qualified this theory in structural terms, not only of actors’ lives, but also of an intellectual structure (the three dimensions). However, his theory is yet incomplete in its more difficult part: the general theory of the dynamics of non-violent conflict resolution. Previous comparison with Freud’s theory suggests an introduction to the illustration of this dynamics. [xvii]


[i]        J. Galtung, Peace by Peaceful Means, London: Sage, 1996, Chap. 2. J. Galtung (2010), A Theory of Conflict. Overcoming Direct Violence, Transcend University Press, p. 27.

[ii]       A. Drago, “Improving Galtung’s A-B-C to a scientific theory of all kinds of conflicts”, Ars Brevis. Anuari de la Càtedra Ramon Llull Blanquenra, 21 (2016) pp. 56-91.

[iii]      However I recently suggested a solution of the many oxymora of the classical notion of Trinity in “Intuitionist reasoning in the tri-unitarian theology of Nicholas of Cues (1401-1464)”, Journal of Logics and their Applications, 6(6) (2019), pp. 1143-1186. My suggestion is to make use, as in present paper, ­of also non-classical logic.

[iv]       L. Carnot, “Dissertation sur la théorie de l’infini mathématique » (1781), in C.C. Gillispie (ed.), Lazare Carnot Savant, Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1971, p. 258.

[v]       A. Drago, “Pluralism in Logic. The Square of opposition, Leibniz’s principle and Markov’s principle”, in Around and Beyond the Square of Opposition, edited by J.-Y. Béziau and D. Jacquette, Basel: Birckhaueser, (2012), pp. 175-189. This paper presents all those details of the above mentioned theories which will be referred to in the following.

[vi]       A, Capitini, “L’avvenire della dialettica”, in G. Cacioppo (ed.): Il messaggio di Aldo Capitini, Lacaita, Manduria TA, (1969), pp. 187-194; A. Drago, “Peace Profile: Aldo Capitini”, Peace Review, 26(3), July 2014, pp. 434-439, sect. 3.

[vii]      More details on this method are presented by two papers: A. Drago, “”Sulla negazione” di S. Freud e i fondamenti della scienza”, in G. Sala and M. Cesa Bianchi (eds.), La presenza di Gustavo Iacono nella Psicologia italiana, Dip. Sci. Relazionali, Univ. Napoli et al. Dept.s, 1992, pp. 137-150, p. 145; A. Drago and E. Zerbino, “Sull’interpretazione metodologica del discorso freudiano”, Riv. Psicol. Neurol. Psichiatria, 57 (1996) pp. 539-566, sect. 2f.


[ix]       Notice that Freud has suggested to the Analyst to “disregard Patient’s negation”. This suggestion does not represent a Hegelian move. In Hegel’s dialectic one starts from an affirmative term (or proposition), negates it and then adds a new negation in order to obtain a new term (as a double negation) indicating a transcending term with respect to the previous two; i.e. he gives reality to all three propositions (respectively: affirmative, negative and doubly negated). Instead, here the negative proposition is an unreal living experience; moreover, when through the addition of a one more negation it is translated into a doubly negated term, it expresses a suspect, to be elaborated in order to eventually state something on the real world, not certainly an affirmation of classical logic as Freud’s proposition: “…it is the mother”.

[x]       A similar interpretation of non classical logic is given by Horn L. (2018), “Contradiction”, in E.N. Zalta (ed.) Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy,, sect. 4.

[xi]       D. Prawitz and P.-E. Malmnaas, “A survey of some connections between classical intuitionistic and minimal logic”, in H.A. Schmidt, K. Schütte and H.-J. Thiele (eds.), Contributions to Mathematical Logic, Amsterdam, North-Holland, (1968), pp. 215-229.

[xii]      J.-B. Grize, “Logique” in Piaget J. (ed.), Logique et connaissance scientifique, Éncyclopédie de la Pléiade, Paris: Gallimard, (1970) pp. 206-210.

[xiii]     A. Drago: “A Scientific Re-assessment of Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason”, in R. Pisano et al. (eds.) The Dialogue between Sciences, Philosophy and Engineering. New Historical and Epistemological Insights. Homage to Gottfried W. Leibniz 1646-1716, London: College Publications, (2017), pp. 121-140.

[xiv]     It is easily proved through the table of M. Dummett: Elements of Intuitionism, Claredon, Oxford, 1977, p. 29.

[xv]J. Galtung (2004), Transcend and Transform, London: Pluto. J. Galtung (2010), A Theory of Conflict. Overcoming Direct Violence, Kolophon, pp. 88-92.

[xvi] Galtung’s thinking conforms to a logic of terms. He fills them in lists and tables, leaving to the reader the task of composing each time a consistent and suggestive framework (Truly, he defines a conflict as a composite idea.of three terms; yet, these terms denote not interacting dimensions). In the history of logic the logic of terms characterized the pre-modern period. In that time Aristotle was capable to suggest through terms formal arguments; he listed all possible syllogisms. In modern times, on the instance of mathematical reasoning, logic changed into logic of propositions and formalized also a logic of predicates including (existential and total) quantifiers. At this stage of development logic was capable to represent theories and also present several theories of logic, i.e. a logical pluralism. Unfortunately, at present time the theory of conflict resolution is very limited; it makes use of only classical logic and only logic of terms. The introduction of syllogisms would represent a first decisive improvement.


Prof. Antonino Drago – Member of the TRANSCEND Network, formerly at the University of Naples. Allied of Ark community, he teaches at the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU: I have a Master degree in physics (University of Pisa 1961), I am a follower of the Community of the Ark of Gandhi’s Italian disciple, Lanza del Vasto, I am a conscientious objector, a participant in the Italian campaigns for conscientious objection (1964-1972) and the Campaign for refusing to pay taxes to finance military expenditure (1983-2000). Owing to my long experience in these activities and also my writings on these subjects I was asked by the University of Pisa to teach Nonviolent popular defense in the curriculum of “Science for Peace” (from 2001 to 2012) and also Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping (2009-2013); then by the University of Florence to teach History and Techniques of nonviolence in the curriculum of “Operations of Peace” (2004-2010). I was the first President of the Italian ministerial committee for promoting un-armed and nonviolent civil defense (2004-2005).

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