My research over the past few years has mostly been on issues of justice pertaining to the family, childhood and education policy. While I am still completing some of my work on childhood justice, I have recently started working on a new 6-year research project on “The Ethics and Politics of Interpersonal Relationships and Loneliness”.
One of the core findings of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a massive empirical study on happiness and health conducted over almost eight decades, is that positive human relationships are “key” to health, longevity and happiness over the course of a life. Meaningful personal relationships, such as friendships, romantic relationships, and parent-child relationships, are also essential to self-esteem and self-respect at all stages of life, and they provide individuals with the support they need to realize their projects and attain desirable positions in society. Unfortunately, some recent empirical evidence suggests that loneliness is on the rise across age groups, affecting many individuals who have few, bad or otherwise unfulfilling relationships. This is a major public health concern. As the work of neuroscientists and psychologists such as John T. Cacioppo and Julianne Holt-Lunstad show, chronic loneliness is associated with poor mental and physical health, declining cognitive abilities, early death and low psychological well-being, among other negative outcomes. Compared to those who are lonely, isolated and have low-quality relationships, individuals who are socially connected and have healthy loving bonds are thus seriously advantaged along several dimensions that seem relevant from the point of view of liberal-egalitarian justice.
Yet, moral and political philosophers are only beginning to consider the question of what the liberal state and individuals should do, if anything, about the unequal distribution of meaningful personal relationships and the growing problems of loneliness and social isolation that characterize our societies today – problems that are likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic we are currently facing.
The general aim of the project is to contribute to theorizing the demands of justice in the area of personal relationships, by addressing a series of neglected questions in contemporary moral and political philosophy concerning love, human connection and loneliness: Which inequalities in the sphere of intimacy and relationships (if any) are unjust, and why? Are citizens owed (opportunities to access and maintain) friendship and love as a matter of justice? Should the liberal state adopt policies aimed at combating loneliness and/or social isolation? If so, which ones, and on what grounds? Does the liberal state have an obligation to recognize and promote a plurality of family forms and models of intimacy? Should the liberal state educate children and young adults to be good friends, lovers, family members? What else can, and should, schools and universities do to promote justice in the domain of interpersonal relationships today? A significant portion of the project is indeed devoted to examining the unique role of educational institutions in combating and preventing loneliness, promoting healthy and just relationships and fairness in the distribution of access to intimacy. As part of this, I am currently working on developing an account of the proper aims, legitimacy and moral importance of compulsory relationships education in liberal democracies.