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voluntarism

voluntarism A term usually contrasted with determinism, voluntarism denotes the assumption that individuals are the agents of their actions, and have some control over what they do. Voluntarism's alliance with action contrasts with the deterministic emphasis associated with structure. By accepting human unpredictability, voluntarism renders sociological analysis more difficult, though arguably more interesting. Voluntaristic theories place issues of decision, purpose, and choice at the forefront of sociological analysis. In The Structure of Social Action (1937), Talcott Parsons develops a voluntaristic theory of action, so called because it includes normative elements, subjective categories, choices about means and ends, and effort.

Voluntarism in social science raises the philosophical issue of free will: namely, the belief that choice means freedom, in the sense of individuals being free to will what they will. Most sociologists—even those of a voluntaristic persuasion— recognize that individuals can only do otherwise than they do within limits (perhaps of a cultural or psychological kind). That is, a residual determinism is implied, even though social action is typically not reduced to physical and biological variables.

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voluntarism

vol·un·ta·rism / ˈväləntəˌrizəm/ • n. 1. the principle of relying on voluntary action (used esp. with reference to the involvement of voluntary organizations in social welfare). ∎  hist. (esp. in the 19th century) the principle that churches or schools should be independent of the state and supported by voluntary contributions. 2. Philos. the doctrine that the will is a fundamental or dominant factor in the individual or the universe. DERIVATIVES: vol·un·ta·rist n. & adj.vol·un·ta·ris·tic / ˌväləntəˈristik/ adj.

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