On the Causes of War

On the Causes of War

On the Causes of War

On the Causes of War


In this highly original and important book, the author analyzes one of the fundamental questions of international relations: what causes war? Drawing on historical, statistical, and philosophical perspectives to produce an innovative theory, the author rejects the simplistic notion that war can be explained by some straightforward formula, yet demonstrates that there are basic similarities among the diverse origins of wars. Comparing various narrative accounts of the origins of wars, the author shows that enquiry into the causes of war is inseparable from the question of responsibility


Some knowledge of politics, of international relations, of economics, is obviously necessary in order to understand the causes which lead to war. Philosophy, theology even, might come in usefully.

(Woolf 1938: 157)

Thinking is also research.

(Samuel Alexander, cited in Bull 1977: x)

INTELLECTUAL dispositions of different sorts rarely coexist in a single mind. Either one is philosophically inclined or one is not, in a great many cases.

Those who are philosophically inclined--let us call them 'philosophers', though they may not, by profession, be such--tend to stare at a question, and ask: 'What is it that this question is asking?'; 'What might an answer look like if indeed there could be an answer to this type of question at all?' Those who are not philosophically inclined (or 'non-philosophers') would rather have some plausible answer to their question than to have it analysed, and get none at all. 'Philosophers' are dismayed by how readily substantive answers are offered by 'non-philosophers' even before preliminary questions have been taken care of. 'Non-philosophers' are frustrated by the philosophically inclined, who, to them, never seem to get anywhere.

'Philosophers' and 'non-philosophers' have their respective contributions to make in rendering the world a more intelligible place to live in. It stands to reason, therefore, that they must not only divide the intellectual labour, but cooperate. Yet collaboration across the boundaries of academic disciplines is relatively rare. The meeting of different intellectual dispositions is rarer still. Explaining and Understanding International Relations byMartin Hollis and Steve Smith (1990) is one recent exception to this.

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