I thought the purpose of conflict resolution was world peace. That was one of the few things I thought I knew for sure upon entering this field.
After just five short years, I have changed my mind.
I think the purpose of conflict resolution is Eudaimonia.
Eudaimonia means "human flourishing." Animals and plants can flourish but eudaimonia requires a rational actor.
Now, the question of how to get there has been the subject of debate for quite sometime. Epicurus tells us "pleasure" is the route to flourishing. Not every pleasure but rather living life in such a way that pleasure is maximized over the long-term. To achieve this long-term pleasure, one must also minimize pain and despair.
Aristotle came at this eudaimonic principle a bit differently. He believed that a life of virtue would allow us to flourish, along with wealth, beauty and advantageous birth.
There's few aspects of eudaimonia that ruffle feathers, namely that there is a normativity to the ethics (there are some standard ethics to which all must adhere) and that this eudaimonic state is not subjective, like happiness. This means, you can think you're flourishing but actually are not. For example a gang leader who feels he has achieved ultimate glory and happiness because he is wealthy, powerful and envy of many. In Jungian terms, he's not a great warrior, he's a thug.
But what does all this have to do with conflict resolution and world peace?
Well, it may be hard to convince war lords, wealthy tyrants, and those benefiting from their hegemony that they are not flourishing.
They may reveal to you over a few drinks, if they haven't had you murdered or jailed, that they just don't feel truly happy. But the chances you'll turn them in the Dalai Lama are pretty slim.
A better starting place might be to make Eudiamonia the goal of those interested in the reduction of violence and suffering. We just need to tweak Aristotle's approach a bit. He believes good birth, beauty and luck are required, in addition to virtue, for human flourishing.
However for those committed to the betterment of all people, it would be useful to believe that eudaimonia is possible for ALL people, in spite of birth. We may also consider that flourishing will not, and ought not, look the same for everyone. I don't need everyone to like swim practice, shrimp dumplings, or academic research in order for the world to roll along nicely. I don't believe in the central planning of happiness for the reasons so well articulated in Hayek's The Road to Serfdom Chapter 10, "Why the Worst Get on Top." Hayek argues if you have central planning, aka tyranny, the only people drawn to the job of determining everyone's best interest will be the exact people you would not want ruling you. No kind hearted supporter of your liberty would want that job.
So the goal of placing eudiamonia centrally in the field of conflict resolution and the advantage of replacing "world peace" with this kind of concept is that it could allow for a kind of liberty. World peace seems to speak to a kind of consensus-building model that it not only unachievable (in any kind of healthy way) but perhaps undesirable.
Let's make the flourishing of all people the goal; this still leaves a remarkable amount of philosophical and material work. Philosophically we still need to make the case for a normative kind of virtue. In addition to meeting the basic needs (John Burton style) we may also need to help "false flourishers" see the limits of their so-called happiness.
again, just something to think about.
Hayek, F.A. The Road to Serfdom. Routledge Press. 1944.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-virtue/#2