Voluntarism (Concepts & Beliefs)

Welcome to our article on voluntarism, a philosophy that celebrates the power of the will and its impact on various aspects of human life. Voluntarism is not just a concept; it is a belief system that encourages individuals to engage in voluntary work, community service, and explore volunteer opportunities. By understanding the principles of voluntarism, we can contribute to the betterment of society and make a meaningful difference in the world around us.

Key Takeaways:

  • Voluntarism emphasizes the role of the will over the intellect in philosophy.
  • It has applications in metaphysics, psychology, political philosophy, and theology.
  • Theological voluntarism centers around the divine will and human freedom.
  • Metaphysical voluntarism considers the will as an unconscious force driving reality.
  • Epistemological voluntarism explores the will’s influence on beliefs and cognitive attitudes.

Theological Voluntarism (Medieval and Natural Philosophy)

In the realm of philosophy, theological voluntarism emerged during the medieval era as a prominent viewpoint, particularly associated with theologians Duns Scotus and William of Ockham. This philosophical concept places significant emphasis on the divine will and human freedom, surpassing the influence of intellect. According to Scotus, morality is not derived from one’s knowledge or intellect, but rather stems from God’s will and choice.

The theological voluntarism of the medieval scholasticism period extended its influence beyond theological discussions. Notably, early modern natural philosophers like Pierre Gassendi, Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton also held certain interpretations of Christian doctrines aligned with theological voluntarism. These interpretations proposed that faith in God can be achieved through an act of will, rather than solely relying on a preexisting divine gift of faith.

This perspective garnered favor among historians and philosophers alike, prompting deeper exploration into the role of the divine will, human freedom, and faith in the realms of intellectual and natural philosophy during the medieval and early modern periods.

Influential Figures in Medieval Theological Voluntarism and Natural Philosophy

Name Role
Duns Scotus Medieval theologian and philosopher
William of Ockham Medieval theologian and philosopher
Pierre Gassendi Early modern natural philosopher
Robert Boyle Early modern natural philosopher
Isaac Newton Early modern natural philosopher

Understanding these influential figures from both theological and natural philosophical perspectives allows us to appreciate the intricate relationship between divine will, human freedom, and faith in God during the medieval and early modern periods.

Metaphysical Voluntarism

In the realm of philosophical thought, metaphysical voluntarism emerges as a provocative concept that challenges conventional notions of reason and logic. At the forefront of this philosophical perspective stands Arthur Schopenhauer, a renowned philosopher who advocates for the idea that the will is not a product of reasoning, but rather an irrational and unconscious urge.

Schopenhauer posits that the will is the driving force at the core of all reality, transcending the boundaries of human comprehension. It operates beyond the realm of conscious intention, exerting its influence on the dynamics of life and pleasure. Through metaphysical voluntarism, Schopenhauer seeks to unravel the enigmatic nature of human existence and explore the irrational depths of the human will.

This profound concept of metaphysical voluntarism has resonated with subsequent philosophers, including Friedrich Nietzsche, who introduced the notion of the “will to power.” This concept further emphasizes the transformative potential of the will, acknowledging its immense power in shaping individual actions, desires, and aspirations.

Other philosophers, such as Julius Bahnsen and Sigmund Freud, have also drawn inspiration from Schopenhauer’s metaphysical voluntarism, weaving it into their own theories and contributing to ongoing discussions surrounding the complex interplay between the will and reality.

Drive-Intention-Vital Dynamics:

One crucial aspect of metaphysical voluntarism is the dynamic relationship between drive, intention, and vitality. This intricate interplay underscores the profound connection between the irrational will and the fundamental forces that propel human existence.

The drive, rooted in the depths of the will, compels individuals to act and pursue their desires. It represents an innate impulse that sparks motivation and fuels the transformative journey through life.

Intention emerges as the conscious manifestation of the will, providing a focal point for individual actions and guiding the pursuit of desires. It allows individuals to shape their reality through deliberate choices and purposeful decisions.

Vitality, stemming from the depths of the will, infuses life with energy, passion, and a zest for existence. It represents the vibrant force that sustains individuals on their unique paths, breathing life into their aspirations and endeavors.

These drive-intention-vital dynamics serve as the underpinning of metaphysical voluntarism, shedding light on the multifaceted nature of human agency and the profound influence of the unconscious will on the fabric of reality.

Epistemological Voluntarism

Epistemological voluntarism, a concept within philosophy, challenges the traditional understanding of belief and cognition. It posits that belief is not solely a result of rational judgment or objective evidence, but rather a matter of personal will and subjective probability. In other words, individuals have the ability to choose their beliefs, regardless of the evidence or rationality involved.

This perspective suggests that one can hold strong convictions about a proposition while acknowledging its low subjective probability. It emphasizes the role of the will in shaping our cognitive attitudes and highlights the voluntary control individuals possess over their own beliefs.

Bas van Fraassen, a prominent philosopher, developed the reflection principle as a basis for epistemological voluntarism. This principle asserts that individuals should adopt beliefs that are compatible with their subjective probabilities. It encourages individuals to align their beliefs with their personal inclinations and intuitions, rather than solely relying on objective evidence.

This idea of voluntary control over beliefs connects to the broader concept of doxastic voluntarism, which argues that individuals have agency in determining their own beliefs. Epistemological voluntarism challenges the notion that beliefs are purely a result of cognitive processes, highlighting the influence of the will and subjective factors in the formation and maintenance of beliefs. It opens up new avenues for understanding human cognition and the complexities of belief formation.

A Comparison of Epistemological Voluntarism and Traditional Belief Formation

Traditional Belief Formation Epistemological Voluntarism
Beliefs are a product of rational judgment and objective evidence. Beliefs can be influenced by personal will and subjective probability.
Beliefs strive for rational coherence and consistency. Beliefs may not always align with objective evidence but reflect personal inclinations.
Beliefs are shaped by cognitive processes and logical reasoning. Beliefs can be shaped by personal intuitions and feelings.
Objective evidence is the primary basis for belief justification. Subjective probabilities and personal inclinations play a role in belief justification.

This table illustrates the contrasting perspectives of traditional belief formation and epistemological voluntarism. While traditional belief formation emphasizes rational judgment and objective evidence as the foundation for beliefs, epistemological voluntarism highlights the role of personal will and subjective factors in belief formation.


In conclusion, voluntarism encompasses various philosophical concepts and beliefs that emphasize the role of the will in different areas of thought. From theological voluntarism to metaphysical and epistemological voluntarism, the idea of voluntary control over beliefs and actions is central. The significance of voluntarism extends to ethics, epistemology, political theory, and the philosophy of religion, shaping our understanding of human agency, morality, and the nature of reality.

By exploring voluntarism, individuals can engage in meaningful community service, explore volunteer opportunities, and contribute to the betterment of society. Voluntarism offers an overview of the ethical implications of our choices and actions, encouraging personal responsibility and proactive engagement. It also invites critical reflections on the epistemological foundations of our beliefs and the political theories that shape our societies. Moreover, in the field of philosophy of religion, voluntarism deepens our understanding of the nature of faith and its relationship to the will.

Overall, voluntarism provides a rich and multifaceted framework for examining the fundamental aspects of human existence. By recognizing the significance of voluntarism, we can navigate the complexities of life with a greater awareness of the power and responsibility inherent in our choices and beliefs. As we embrace voluntarism, we can cultivate a more ethical, informed, and engaged society.


What is voluntarism?

Voluntarism is a metaphysical and psychological system that assigns a more predominant role to the will than to the intellect.

In what areas of philosophy has voluntarism been applied?

Voluntarism has been applied in various areas of philosophy, such as metaphysics, psychology, political philosophy, and theology.

Who introduced the term voluntarism?

The term voluntarism was introduced by Ferdinand Tönnies and used by Wilhelm Wundt and Friedrich Paulsen.

What is theological voluntarism?

Theological voluntarism emphasizes the divine will and human freedom over the intellect, and it is associated with Duns Scotus and William of Ockham.

What is metaphysical voluntarism?

Metaphysical voluntarism, proposed by Arthur Schopenhauer, views the will as an irrational and unconscious force at the core of reality.

What is epistemological voluntarism?

Epistemological voluntarism asserts that belief is a matter of the will rather than mere registration of cognitive attitude.

How does voluntarism relate to community service?

By exploring voluntarism, individuals can engage in meaningful community service, explore volunteer opportunities, and contribute to the betterment of society.

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