Voluntarism is a school of thought that regards the will as superior to the intellect and to emotion. This description has been applied to various points of view, from different cultural eras, in the areas of metaphysics, psychology, sociology, and theology.
The term voluntarism was introduced by Ferdinand Tönnies into the philosophical literature and particularly used by Wilhelm Wundt and Friedrich Paulsen. The etymology of the word is from Latin (voluntas: the will, the desire; also: arbitrariness).
Associated with John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham (two of the foremost medieval scholastic philosophers), voluntarism is generally taken to be the philosophical emphasis on the divine will and human freedom. For example, Scotus held that morality comes from God's will and choice rather than his intellect or knowledge. Accordingly, God should be defined as an omnipotent being whose actions should not and cannot be ultimately rationalized and explained through reason. As such, voluntarism is usually contrasted with intellectualism, championed by the scholastic Thomas Aquinas.
Voluntarism also refers to theological commitments—that is, specific interpretations of doctrines of Christianity—arguably held by such figures as Pierre Gassendi, Walter Charleton, Robert Boyle, Isaac Barrow, and Isaac Newton. It resulted in an empirical approach associated with early modern science. Voluntarism therefore allows that faith or belief in God can be achieved by will as opposed to requiring a prior divine gift of faith to the individual. This notion holds at least in so far as it has found favor among some historians and philosophers (e.g., the historian Francis Oakley and the philosopher Michael B. Foster). A twentieth-century theologian of voluntarism was James Luther Adams.
A proponent of metaphysical voluntarism is 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. In his view, the will is not reasoning, but an irrational, unconscious urge, in relation to which the intellect represents a secondary phenomenon. The will is actually the force at the core of all reality.
In epistemology, 'voluntarism' describes the view that belief is a matter of the will rather than one of simply registering one's cognitive attitude or degree of psychological certainty with respect to a stated proposition. If one is a voluntarist with respect to beliefs, it is coherent to simultaneously feel very certain about a particular proposition, P, and assign P a very low subjective probability. This is the basis of Bas Van Fraassen's Principle of Reflection.
Realization and science theory
In another context the realization and science theory of Hugo Dingler, which starts with the unavoidable will act (as "I-Here-Now"). The methodical constructionalism of the school of Erlangen and the methodical culturalism of Marburg is to be seen subsequently.
Notes and references
- Durant, Will (1926). The Story of Philosophy. New York NY: Touchstone Books-Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-69500-2.
- Peter Harrison (historian). "Was Newton a Voluntarist?" (pp. 39-64). Newton and Newtonianism: new studies. James E. Force, Sarah Hutton. Springer, 2004. ISBN 1-4020-1969-6