Loneliness, which can be defined as the negative mental states (e.g. sadness, despair) that people experience when they feel that they do not have enough relationships, or not the right kinds of relationships, is a widespread phenomenon in many societies. Even prior to the current pandemic, surveys from Europe and North-America reported that 20 to 35 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 79 say that they are frequently lonely, a figure that rises to 40 to 50 percent among those aged 80 and above. Other groups that are at high risk of chronic loneliness include informal care-givers; people with disabilities; and adolescents, with 40 percent of 16-24 year old Britons saying that they are 'often' or 'very often' lonely. These statistics are worrisome, as chronic loneliness has been found to contribute to e.g. depression; dementia; and poor physical health, with some medical experts arguing that its health effects can be compared to those of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In addition to this, loneliness takes a heavy economic toll. In the UK, for instance, it is estimated that ill health associated with loneliness costs employers 2.5 billion GBP every year. Yet while the severity of these harms and economic costs makes loneliness prevention and alleviation a highly important topic to study (as psychologists and sociologists have long realized), philosophers have paid scant attention to it. The aim of this project is to fill this lacuna. Through ethical analysis and reflection on relevant philosophical, psychological and sociological literatures, it will investigate what moral duties private individuals and societies more broadly (i.e. states) have to help protect people from loneliness and to help ensure that people can protect themselves from loneliness. This will culminate in the development of the first normative theory of loneliness within the scholarly literature and in the establishment of a new sub-field within moral and political philosophy.
Fields of science
- HORIZON.1.1 - European Research Council (ERC) Main Programme