Western philosophy has emphasized the concept of will (or volition), viewing it as the agent through which we affect the world. That same tradition has put emphasis on an individualist, atomistic concept of the self. In a related vein, cross-cultural psychologists have distinguished between individualist and collectivist cultures, with Western cultures, especially the U.S., being put into the former category, while most non-Euro-American cultures are placed in the latter one.
We delve deeper into the individualist/collectivist distinction by examining the concept of volition, trying to determine whether it is a cross-cultural concept or if it systematically changes according to whether the culture expresses an individualist or relational concept of self. Since the concept of autonomy is related to the concepts of self and of volition, we also question whether it also changes, depending on the culture. In the end, we argue that the concepts of self, volition, and autonomy form a family of concepts, which are systematically different in an individualist and in a collectivist culture.
Our work is based on empirical research gathered by us in Bali and in the U.S. using a survey questionnaire. We found that American and Balinese responses suggested a cross-cultural component of volition, focusing on the ability to take initiative and to persist in action. On the other hand, we found decidedly cultural responses in their views of volition, and these correspond with their different ideas of self. In particular, the Balinese respond that they employ more secondary control, in which they try to conform to the world, while Americans show more primary control, in which one attempts to conform the world to one’s own wishes. Likewise, both cultures respond that autonomy is fundamental to them, but the concept seems to be understood differently, relating to their concepts of self and volitional control.