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Wilful, proceeding from the will. It is requisite that the thing be an effect of the will consequent upon actual knowledge, either formal or virtual, in the rational agent. It is not quite the same as free; for a free act supposes self-determination proceeding from an agent capable, at the time, of determining himself or not at his choice. However, as every specific voluntary act in this life is also free (except those rare will-impulses, when man is swept to sudden action without time to perceive in non-action the element of good requisite for determination not to act) the moralist commonly uses the terms voluntary and free interchangeably. A thing may be voluntary in itself, as when in its own proper concept it falls under the efficacious determination of the agent, or voluntary in something else, as in its cause. Voluntary in cause requires foreknowledge of the effect, at least virtual, viz. under a general concept of effects to follow; and production thereof by virtue of the will's efficiency exercised in the willing of its cause. For the verification of the latter requisite the moralist distinguishes two classes of effects which commonly follow from the same cause, those namely to produce which the cause is destined by its nature, and those to which it is not so destined. Of the former the cause is sole and adequate cause, the effect natural and primary. The human will cannot without self-contradiction put a cause into existence without efficaciously willing this natural effect also. In the case of the other class of effects the cause placed by the will is not the sole and adequate cause, but the effect results from the coincident efficiency of other causes, whether contingent, as upon the exercise of other free wills or upon the accidental coincidence of necessary causes beyond the knowledge and control of the agent, or whether necessarily resulting from the coincident efficiency of natural causes ready to act when occasion is thus given. An effect of this class does not come into existence by the efficiency of the will placing the occasioning cause. The utmost result of the will's efficiency, when it places a cause and wills its natural effect, is to make that secondary class of effects possible. Sometimes the agent is so bound to prevent the existence of a secondary effect as to be beholden not to make it possible, and so is bound to withhold the occasioning cause. In case of failure in this duty his fault is specified by the character of the effect to be prevented, and so this effect is then said to be morally involved in his voluntary act, whereas in strict analysis the will only caused its possibility.

Vincible ignorance as a reason of an effect does not rob it of its voluntariness, as the ignorance is voluntary and its effect immediate and natural. Invincible ignorance, however, removes its effect from the domain of the voluntary, in itself because unknown, in its cause, for the ignorance is involuntary. Passion pursuant of its sensible object, when voluntarily induced, does not deprive its act of voluntariness, as the passion is the natural cause and is voluntary. Passion spontaneously arising does not ordinarily mean the loss of voluntariness, as in ordinary course it leaves a man both the necessary knowledge and power of self-determination, as we know by experience. In the extraordinary case of such an excess of passion as paralyzes the use of reason obviously the act cannot be voluntary. Even fear and the cognate passions that turn a man from sensible harm do not destroy the simple voluntariness of their act, as this (excepting again such excess as holds up the reasoning faculty) proceeds with such knowledge and efficacious self-determination consequent thereon as fulfil the requisites for voluntary action. Of course there will commonly remain an inefficacious reluctance of the will to such action. Physical force can coerce only the external act: our experience shows that the internal act of the will is still our own.

About this page

APA citation. Macksey, C. (1912). Voluntary. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Macksey, Charles. "Voluntary." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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