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Oxford Cognitive Science Project






A Guide To My Research

My focus tends to be on big picture questions about wellbeing, ethics, religion, and medicine. For example, I work on such topics as: "Do we know how happy we are?", "How many people should there be?", "Should parents get to decide whether their child receives life saving treatment?" ,"Does God exist?." Although these are fundamentally philosophical questions and so do not have purely scientific answers, on my view, I think that the way we answer them can and should be informed by the sciences.  As a result, much of my work seeks to be in conversation with the sciences--not just medicine, but also cognitive science, evolution, and the science of happiness. Like many scientists, moreover, I  think that that inquiry is at its most interesting when it has the potential to challenge popular opinion.

In biomedical ethics I am especially interested in a subfield that Elizabeth Harman calls creation ethics. This area, though traditionally focused on debates surrounding abortion and contraception, covers other provocative topics, such as 1) whether parents should seek to create or select the best off children they can, 2) whether a global one-child policy is a reasonable response to the increasingly severe environmental stresses on our planet, and 3) even the basic morality of bringing any persons (or worlds) into existence. Although I am a pro-natalist who thinks that procreation is justified, I also think it's important to explore the most fundamental debates about the ethics of procreation. Other bioethics topics that interest me include whether physicians should be able to refuse certain medical services on grounds of conscience, and the debate between medical vs. social models of disability. 

Finally, I have an enduring interest in the philosophy of religion, the field that first drove me into philosophy. Here I have written on the relationship between faith and reason, the problem of evil, divine hiddenness, theism, naturalism, ultimism, and a view I call religious Mooreanism. Careful readers will note that I have challenged and defended the same religious views on different occasions and have shifted on certain earlier stances. This is not entirely surprising given my view that philosophy of religion is hard, that individuals develop, and that we should seek to follow the arguments where they lead. Some papers are posted below. In due course I'll upload others, but in the meantime, feel free to ask me for a copy!


Conscientious Refusals and Reason-Giving, Bioethics, (2014), 28: 313–319  http://philpapers.org/archive/MARCRA-3.pdf

Some philosophers have argued for what I call the reason-giving requirement for conscientious refusal in reproductive healthcare. According to this requirement, healthcare practitioners who conscientiously object to administering standard forms of treatment must have arguments to back up their conscience, arguments that are purely public in character. I argue that such a requirement, though attractive in some ways, faces an overlooked epistemic problem: it is either too easy or too difficult to satisfy in standard cases. I close by briefly considering whether a version of the reason-giving requirement can be salvaged despite this important difficulty  


Quality of Life Assessments, Cognitive Reliability, and Procreative ResponsibilityPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research (2014) http://philpapers.org/rec/MARQOL

Recent work in the psychology of happiness has led some to conclude that we are unreliable assessors of our lives and that skepticism about whether we are happy is a genuine possibility worth taking very seriously. I argue that such claims, if true, have worrisome implications for procreation. In particular, they show that skepticism about whether many if not most people are well positioned to create persons is a genuine possibility worth taking very seriously. This skeptical worry should not be confused with a related but much stronger version of the argument which says that all human lives are very bad and not worth starting. I criticize the latter stance, but take seriously the former stance and hope it can be answered in future work (before this can be done, however, optimists like myself need to know where the problems lie)


   Thanks to whoever tweeted this for the compliment!!


What’s Wrong With "You Say You’re Happy, But…" Reasoning? In preparation for Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Disability. Edited by Adam Curton and David Wasserman. Oxford University Press.

Disability-positive philosophers often note a troubling tendency to downgrade the testimony of disabled persons about their wellbeing. I agree that the tendency in question is often troubling. But what exactly is the problem with  it? I argue that increasingly common epistemological answers, ‘It ignores lived experience’, ‘It commits testimonial injustice’, or ‘it rests on a view of adaptive preferences that overgeneralizes’ are less convincing than is sometimes supposed. Or put another way, these arguments, while they give us good reasons to trust people when they claim to value being disabled, give us less compelling reasons to trust testimony according to which disabilities like deafness or blindness do not make people worse off. I then consider a different case for trusting the latter, stronger, forms of testimony by arguing that common varieties of disability-positive skepticism threaten everyone's wellbeing and are further challenged by an argument from moral risk.


Procreative Ethics and the Problem of Evil in Permissible Progeny? The Morality of Procreation and Parenting, Oxford University Press (2015), http://philpapers.org/archive/MARPEA-14.pdf

Many people think that the amount of evil and suffering we observe provides important and perhaps decisive evidence against the claim that a loving God created our world. Yet almost nobody worries about the ethics of human procreation. Can these attitudes be consistently maintained? This chapter argues that the most obvious attempts to justify a positive answer fail. The upshot is not that procreation is impermissible, but rather that we should either revise our beliefs about the severity of global arguments from evil or develop new and better defenses of human procreation. Although both possibilities are worthy of pursuit, this chapter focuses on the latter possibility.


                       Philosophy of Religion / Science and Religion

On the Socratic Injunction to Follow the Argument Where it LeadsForthcoming in Renewing Philosophy of Religion: Exploratory Essays ed., Paul Draper & J.L. Schellenberg, Oxford University Press.

This chapter examines a common objection to the philosophy of religion, namely, that it has not sufficiently embraced the injunction of Socrates to follow the argument where it leads. Although a general version of this charge is unfair, one emerging view in the field, which I call religious Mooreanism, nonetheless risks running contrary to the Socratic injunction. According to this view, many people can quickly, easily, and reasonably deflect all known philosophical challenges to their core religious outlooks, including arguments from evil. This chapter argues that, in addition to being in tension with the Socratic injunction, religious Mooreanism is less plausible than traditional Mooreanism and in any case has not been adequately defended.


Darwin and the Problem of Natural Nonbelief. MonistJuly 2013 issue on Naturalizing Religious Belief  

Problem one: why, if God designed the human mind, did it take so long for humans to develop theistic concepts and beliefs? Problem two: why would God use evolution to design the living world when the discovery of evolution would predictably contribute to so much nonbelief in God? Darwin was aware of such questions but failed to see their evidential significance for theism. This paper explores this significance. (Unlike some popular works on science and religion, the aim here is not to undermine or disrespect anyone's religious beliefs only to better understand some overlooked challenges for theism).

           See here: http://philpapers.org/archive/MARDAT-7.pdf


         Assessing the Third Way inThe Roots of Religion: Exploring the Cognitive Science of Religion,  2014, Ashgate  Now Routledge, 2016)

Philosophers have long discussed the prospects of naturalism and theism. But I want to explore a third option here: namely, a kind of abstract generic religion without supernatural agency or God. This third option finds its most rigorous defense in the recent work of J.L. Schellenberg. My task will be to consider two questions: one cultural, the other epistemic. First, is the third way – which Schellenberg calls generic ultimism – likely to compete, culturally speaking, with traditional religion? Second, can the third way resist the argument from evil, as Schellenberg seems to suggest? I suggest that the answer is probably no on both fronts. My arguments make much use of recent work in cognitive science of religion.
The Explanatory Challenge of Religious Diversity (with Jon Marsh) in Helen De Cruz & Ryan Nichols (eds.), Advances in Religion, Cognitive Science, and Experimental Philosophy. Bloomsbury 2016, 61-83.
The challenge from religious diversity is widely thought to be one of the most important challenges facing religious belief. Despite this consensus, however, many epistemologists think that standard versions of the challenge fail because they threaten to implicate many seemingly reasonable yet highly controversial non-religious beliefs. In light of this we develop an alternative, less discussed, diversity challenge that does not generalize. This challenge concerns why so much religious diversity exists in the first place given common religious, and in particular, theistic views. Although there are some interesting scientific explanations of such diversity, satisfying theistic explanations of its existence are still required.(PDF here


                            COVERS OF BOOKS MENTIONED ABOVE




Finally, if you're in the mood for music, some of which occasionally* connects up to my philosophical work, check out video samples of my rock, blues, and country songs here. Or if you prefer classical-spanish-guitar instrumental music, I composed and played this piece here. To listen to my 2016 debut album go to apple music here or spotify here . And if you like it, like us on Facebook here.


*'Luminosity', 'The Gift of Life', and 'Happiness is a Game' in particular connect up to some of my philosophical research. The first of these is about the decline of faith in Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach and about whether religious experience can overcome religious skepticism. The second is a life-affirming instrumental. The third is about the hedonic treadmill and the search for lasting happiness.


Copyright © 2009 JASON MARSH