[vol-uh n-tuh-riz-uh m]
  1. Philosophy. any theory that regards will as the fundamental agency or principle, in metaphysics, epistemology, or psychology.
  2. the principle or practice of supporting churches, schools, hospitals, etc., by voluntary contributions or aid instead of relying on government assistance.
  3. any policy or practice based on voluntary action.

Origin of voluntarism

First recorded in 1830–40; voluntar(y) + -ism
Related formsvol·un·ta·rist, noun, adjectivevol·un·ta·ris·tic, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for voluntarism

Historical Examples of voluntarism

  • Other provisions governing the establishment of agroindustrial complexes, however, conflicted with the principle of voluntarism.

    Area Handbook for Bulgaria

    Eugene K. Keefe, Violeta D. Baluyut, William Giloane, Anne K. Long, James M. Moore, and Neda A. Walpole

  • Carried into practice, Voluntarism would be as like Anarchism as two peas.


    E. V. Zenker

  • One particular school of voluntarism (Wundt) reduces the motive-force of energy to will.

    The Wonders of Life

    Ernst Haeckel

  • The two great characteristics of the British race—initiative and endurance—are due to this burning flame of voluntarism.

  • To the idol of voluntarism a veritable holocaust of victims has been offered up.

    Freedom In Service

    Fossey John Cobb Hearnshaw

British Dictionary definitions for voluntarism


  1. philosophy the theory that the will rather than the intellect is the ultimate principle of reality
  2. a doctrine or system based on voluntary participation in a course of action
  3. the belief that the state, government, and the law should not interfere with the procedures of collective bargaining and of trade union organization
  4. another name for voluntaryism
Derived Formsvoluntarist, noun, adjectivevoluntaristic, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for voluntarism

1838, in philosophy, from voluntary + -ism. As the theory or principal of using voluntary action rather than coercion (in politics, etc.), from 1924, American English (Voluntaryism in this sense is recorded from 1883).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper