Antinomies of Voluntariness

Investigating the Foundations of Political Participation from a Socio-Philosophical Perspective

Voluntariness is an indispensable resource for political participation in democratic processes of opinion formation and decision-making. It denotes a willingness to participate in elections, to produce informed judgements, to feed opinions into the public sphere, and to organize gatherings, protests, and support. This socio-philosophical subproject examines the conditions under which we can plausibly expect voluntary participation to be mobilized. Here we must take account of the fact that dispositions for voluntary praticipation are generated under conditions that cannot be provided by this participation itself. That is, these dispositions are produced by factors that are external to and a prerequisite for participation. Nonetheless, voluntary participation must be understood as a freedom-based phenomenon in a sophisticated sense.

This subproject adheres to a socio-philosophical praxeology that combines two explanatory models to produce a robust theory of the conditions under which political participation arises. On the one hand, it is assumed that institutional frameworks (such as functioning educational institutions and effective legal guarantees) are necessary conditions for the formation of voluntariness. On the other hand, the praxeological assumption of pre-institutional practices takes us beyond this institutionalist explanatory model. We will examine specific practices of culture, art, communication, and cooperation that are capable of engendering a disposition for voluntary participation.

These pre-institutional practices have three key characteristics. First, they are in a sense an end in themselves. They are thus threatened by economic pressures that may cause the wellsprings of voluntariness to run dry. Second, these practices can only achieve contingent effects: they facilitate a willingness to engage in them but do not guarantee this outcome in deterministic fashion. Third, these practices arise spontaneously in the pre-institutional sphere, since they are at most supported by cultural, social, and educational policies, but cannot arise without willing actors.



Democratic Participation   |   Antinomy   |   Praxeology

Self-purpose   |   Contingency   |   Spontaneity

Research Field

Practical Philosophy

Project Period



Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg

Department of Philosophy

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