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any theory predicated on the assumption that individual purposes, choice, decisions, etc. are a decisive element in social action. The polar opposite of voluntarism is DETERMINISM. However, often in sociology there is an acceptance that it is appropriate for theories to include both voluntaristic and deterministic elements, e.g. structural determinants which constrain but do not necessarily eliminate choice. Talcott PARSONS (1937), for example, refers to his theory of action as ‘voluntaristic’, in that it includes reference to 'subjective’ elements and individual ‘moral’ choice. But this does not preclude him from advancing accounts of universal FUNCTIONAL PREREQUISITES. See also ACTION THEORY, STRUCTURE AND AGENCY, METHODOLOGICAL INDIVIDUALISM, FREE WILL.



(a term introduced by F. Tonnies in 1883), an idealist movement in philosophy that believes will to be the highest principle of being. In giving will first place in spiritual being, voluntarism stands in opposition to intellectualism (or rationalism), that is, to idealist philosophical systems that consider intellect and reason to be the basis of that which exists.

Elements of voluntarism can be found as early as the philosophy of Augustine, who saw in will the basis of all other spiritual processes, and in the philosophy of Duns Scotus, with his emphasis on the primacy of will over intellect (voluntas est superior intellectu, “will is higher than thought”). A premise of the new voluntarism was I. Kant’s doctrine of the primacy of practical reason. According to Kant, although the existence of free will can be neither proved nor refuted theoretically, practical reason demands that we postulate freedom of will, for otherwise moral law would lose all meaning. Proceeding from this, J. G. Fichte saw in will the basis of personality and in the exercising of will by the ego the absolute creative principle of being, the source of the spiritual self-generation of the world. Moreover, in Fichte (as in Kant and the later exponents of German classical philosophy F. W. Schelling and G. Hegel) will is rational by its nature and the source of realization of the moral principle. In contrast A. Schopenhauer, in whose philosophy voluntarism first takes shape as an independent current, gives an irrationalist interpretation of will as the blind, nonrational, purposeless first principle of the world. Schopenhauer construes the Kantian thing-in-itself as will, appearing on various levels of objectification. Schopenhauer regarded consciousness and intellect as being one of the secondary manifestations of will. For Schopenhauer, as for E. Hartmann, voluntarism is closely connected with pessimism and the conception of the senselessness of the world process, whose source is unconscious and blind will. The voluntaristic ideas of Schopenhauer were one of the sources of the philosophy of F. Nietzsche.

The term “voluntarism” is also used to characterize social and political practices that do not take into consideration the objective laws of the historical process and are guided by the subjective desires and arbitrary decisions of those in control.


Engels, F.Anti-Dühing. Moscow, 1969. Pages 111-12.
Knauer, R. Der Voluntarismus. Berlin, 1907.
Marcus, J. Intellektualismus und Voluntarismus in der modernen Philosophic. Düsseldorf, 1918.
References in periodicals archive ?
Men in their hometowns nourished a local, voluntaristic spirit in the associations they joined; and when the crises of Revolution and secession unfolded, many turned out as volunteer soldiers willing to fight and die for the national cause.
Theirs is a voluntaristic philosophy of moral regeneration, a philosophy of 'active utopianism'.
the importance of both supply and demand factors, and the reconciliation of deterministic and voluntaristic theories).
Unfortunately, Overcoming Welfare does not use history to improve our understanding of the connection between personal relationships and "moral uplift"; it does not strengthen one's beliefs in the voluntaristic principles of an earlier generation; it does not offer a scheme for the alleviation of poverty; and it writes no redeeming parables for broken community or fragile self-esteem.
Wallace's voluntaristic "range of obligations" idea begins to blur the significance of legal residence as a determiner of membership in the nation: the important thing about residence status is the intentional state of allegiance that it purports to signify.
According to historian and political theorist Michael Walzer, "American symbols and ceremonies are culturally anonymous, invented rather than inherited, voluntaristic in style, narrowly political in content.
I do so below ([sections] VI), but first I briefly give further reason to believe that real persons are accurately described as strongly voluntaristic.
Individualists do better, according to Kincaid, but not well enough, for though they search for causes, they assume that only the properties of individuals can be causes and so lend credence to voluntaristic, merit based social policies and leave more collectivist policies groundless.
The present book argues for the revival of the concept and a return to its original sociological usage, a usage that referred not to state control or penal control but to the dense fabric of formal and informal controls necessary to `a voluntaristic integration of citizens into a compact of co-operation, compromise, communication and self-policing' (p.
All these are evidence of the emergence of a new political culture, one that combines the conservative individualism with the cooperative, voluntaristic and anti-materialist traditions of the early socialist movement.
Compare, for example, voluntaristic theories of business strategy that envision few such constraints, with more deterministic bureaucratic or ecological theories that anticipate many such limitations.
Jews became enfranchised as private citizens of their country of residence and the Jewish community itself increasingly came to be organized along the lines of a voluntaristic association.