People often pursue multiple goals and occupy overlapping social roles simultaneously. This occurs against the backdrop of strict psychological and physical limitations. In other words, we want to do a lot with a little. One way to navigate this tension is to scatter agency. This requires putting things on hold to pursue other opportunities at the right time, all while remembering to come back to previously undertaken endeavors when appropriate. This opens up the need for a capacity to manage psychological resources implicated in acting over time. In this project, I call this capacity vigilance and outline the role that it plays in managing first-order psychological capacities such as memory and attention.
I focus on the relationship between vigilance and other psychological constructs (attention, memory, self-control, and mind wandering) as well as normative concepts (responsibility). While the main aim of the current project is to illuminate the nature and function of vigilance, focusing on vigilance has implications for thinking about the structure of human agency. In particular, the theory of vigilance outlined here explains self-control limitations without appealing to limited resource consumption. This also furnishes a more nuanced account of the role that motivation plays in action. Additionally, I conclude by outlining a robust empirical research program that falls out of the conceptual account of vigilance outlined here. Future work will follow up on this program in an effort to confirm the theory or identify potential areas of refinement.