Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 6, pp 1639–1666 | Cite as

On not getting out of bed

  • Samuel AsarnowEmail author


This morning I intended to get out of bed when my alarm went off. Hearing my alarm, I formed the intention to get up now. Yet, for a time, I remained in bed, irrationally lazy. It seems I irrationally failed to execute my intention. Such cases of execution failure (as I call it) pose a challenge for Mentalists about rationality, who believe that facts about rationality supervene on facts about the mind. For, this morning, my mind was in order; it was my (in)action that apparently made me irrational. What, then, should Mentalists say about the phenomenon of execution failure? The phenomenon of execution failure, and the puzzle it raises for Mentalists, have rarely been discussed. This paper addresses the puzzle in two parts. First, it argues (against John Broome) that execution failure is a real phenomenon. It is possible for agents to irrationally fail to act on their present-directed intentions. It follows that Mentalists in the philosophy of action must solve the puzzle of explaining what is irrational about cases of execution failure. Second, this paper begins the search for such a solution. It considers six possible resolutions to the puzzle, arguing that none is obviously the most attractive. These resolutions include a requirement of overall conative consistency, an appeal to the norm of intention consistency, a form of Volitionalism, an appeal to factive mental states, and a proposal due to Garrett Cullity, and a novel requirement of proper functioning.


Action  Rationality Intention Execution failure Mentalism Supervenience Volitionalism Not getting out of bed 



For helpful conversations or written feedback, thanks to Arden Ali, Facundo Alonso, Paul Boswell, Michael Bratman, Sarah Buss, Luis Cheng-Guajardo, Eugene Chislenko, Jamie Dreier, Daniel Y. Elstein, Geoff Gorham, Abraham Graber, R.J. Leland, Carlos Núñez, Grant Rozeboom, Daniel Speak, David Taylor, an extremely helpful anonymous referee for Philosophical Studies, and an audience at the 2017 Pacific APA.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMacalester CollegeSt. PaulUSA

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