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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.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(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.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(6) For example, when he referred to the inalienable rights of workers with regard to their hours and wages, he was using a moral criterion that is neither consequentialist nor voluntarist. There does not appear to have been any development or evolution in the role he gave to natural rights, and it is not easy to say whether the role he gave to rights was greater or less than the role he gave to consequences.
Mailer's political physiology of the American state also reveals two developments in his thinking which would have an enduring effect upon the next phase of his work: his voluntarist critique of liberalism and his commitment to the redemptive personality of the existential hero.
The fourth factor, labeled Voluntarist (as distinct from Intellectualist) contained three items reflecting the position that free will makes people responsible for their conduct, and allows for strict judgments of people's actions as good or evil.
voluntarist view must hold that spousal relations can be freely created
In his book on civic participation, "Democracy's Discontents," Sandel argues that since mid-century we have seen the creation of the voluntarist self for which the power of choosing (the sovereignty of electing to do this or that) has become of the first importance, leaving the item chosen to fade into the background.
Voluntarist solutions, the show seems to say, are the finest expression of that spirit.
Clarke's response was typical of a certain voluntarist mode of thought from the Middle Ages--an approach often associated with nominalism in which stress was placed on the omnipotence of God's will placing God's acts beyond human understanding.
For example, Charry distinguishes between what she calls voluntarist and asherist biblical commands.
Essebsi went on saying that this need is an urgent one "to avoid the stage of decline often seen in democratic transitions, a decline which our economies and societies cannot afford to endure." "Tunisia can rely on its own forces but in order to bring the process it started to a successful end, it needs the voluntarist support of the International Community to have its economic and social transition succeed," he declared, adding that a G8 plan would back the ambitious economic and social development programme which we have undertaken to build-up a prosperous and stable Tunisia.
When viewed that way, the implications run counter to the voluntarist argument that policy could and should have been different.
For the senators, Morocco has for ten years led a "voluntarist" policy of sustainable development, aware of environmental challenges and shortcomings of its infrastructure."
Needless to say, like any consistent voluntarist, Fanon is critical of distorted conceptions of will that turns it into one of its several opposites--instinctive reflex, unthinking 'fervour', 'blind' impulse.