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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 ?
Although in terms of traditional narratives of the history of science Cobo, the voluntarist, was ultimately wrong, and Acosta, the theological rationalist, most closely approximated modern scientific ideas, such judgments blind us to the motivations and perceived utility that the arguments advanced by each Jesuit actually possessed.
He asserts that the voluntarist account of criminal liability is purely descriptive.
Hence, the voluntarist account may allow morally suspect social norms and their regressive effects to persist in the criminal law.
And Cudworth is quite explicit in claiming to prove that voluntarists must appeal to an "antecedent obligation," and not simply an antecedent conditional truth about obligations.
Cudworth argues like this: (3) the voluntarist has to admit that in order for his theory to be true, God--or at least His commands--have to be pretty special.
Below I present three traditions that fall within the entitlement approach: the mutual benefit tradition, the communitarian tradition, and the voluntarist tradition.
According to the voluntarist tradition, special obligations arise only from voluntary contractual relationships.
To effectively defend the view that duress reduces the actor's culpability, we must focus on something that, curiously enough, is downplayed not only by Duff but by many voluntarists (typified by Hart and Michael Moore (52)) as well as by character theorists (such as Kahan and Nussbaum): the psychological pressure that a person characteristically feels when she is made the object of a serious threat.
To say this, of course, is to invoke the other branch of Hart's responsibility criterion, but Duff contends that this too will prove unsatisfactory for the voluntarist.
In response, attention must be called to the fact that the philosophical presuppositions that underlie this rejection can be traced back to a voluntarist construal of the relationship between intellect and will, on the one hand, and between God and the universe, on the other hand.
Voluntarists often objected to such compromising of the will's autonomy.
It is from Aristotle after all that medieval voluntarists get their basic principle that only the voluntary, only what we control, is praised or blamed.