Shaping our action space: A situated perspective on self-control

About the project

“Shaping our action space: a situated perspective on self-control” (VI.VIDI.195.116)

Self-control is more important than ever: living in contemporary society requires us to resist temptations continuously, and to allocate our time and money wisely. But, what does it mean to exercise self-control? Traditionally, self-control was understood in terms of individual willpower. However, the concept of willpower now faces criticism on both conceptual and psychological grounds. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we find those who argue that self-control is about engineering the environment to nudge us towards prudent behavior. But can nudging be seen as genuine self-control?

To overcome these worries, this research project aims to develop a third-way approach to understanding self-control. We propose to see self-control as a distinctive type of relation between agents and their environment. More specifically, the project will develop an embodied and situated account of self-control, analyzing it as the agent’s capacity to actively modulate (restrict, enlarge, recalibrate) the action possibilities offered by the environment. In the project we will examine which capacities and skills are required for shaping our own action space, and study how these skills are learned and perfected through life.

In contrast to traditional accounts of willpower, our proposal emphasizes the crucial role of social, cultural, and environmental structuring for agency. But, contrary to nudging approaches, we hold that genuine self-control requires an individual to guide her own action.

*This project is funded by the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO).