The concept of war: a short philosophical inquiry about the nature of conflict in Afghanistan

Nicole Valentini
2 min readApr 3, 2021
Socrates in the battle of Potidea protects the Alcibiades. Bassin P. V. 1831

The Afghan conflict has been defined as a complex and multi-layered conflict. This conflict is particularly hard to understand because of the several actors involved and the different situations experienced by people on the ground.

The experience of a man in Kabul, for example, will be different from the experience of a child in Kandahar, and the latter from the experience of a woman in Bamiyan. The dangers, perpetrators, and daily problems faced by these people might differ quite a lot.

For this reason, when reading about conflict in Afghanistan we might end having many different opinions about its nature and causes. For some people, the cause lies entirely in the involvement of external States, for others in an erosion of the social fabric, and so on. From a philosophical point of view, these experiences can be compared to phenomena, subjective representations of war. A sophist would say that this is the reason why a single truth cannot be proven to exist. The consequence of this approach is ethical relativism.

The anti-sophist Socrates would argue that this ethical relativism could be overcome through what he calls a concept. A concept is a universal principle that is the base of human discourse and that allows humans to understand each other beyond the different phenomena. For example, when we think about a tree, one might think about an apple tree, and another one about a cherry tree, but the concept of a tree would be the same.

The concept, unlike individual personal experiences, is universal. The question is: is ending the war possible, without a common agreement about the nature of war, and therefore about the very same concept of war in Afghanistan?

A project of nation-building, alongside a collective effort to strengthen the social fabric of the country, would be essential to reach this important goal. Yet people are not those in charge of ending the conflict, institutions and organizations are. Naturally, institutions and organizations are made up of people, but are the interests of institutions the same as the interests of the single people? Good is people’s common interest, but is the Good the common interest of institutions and organizations? Do not different interests end up colliding with the common agreement about a universal concept? Does interest need the Truth to satisfy itself?

For this reason, any agreement aimed at ending the conflict in Afghanistan might not be successful if the main party involved, the victims of the conflict will be excluded from it.