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Investigating the Ethics and Politics of Sociability


Principal Investigator: Professor Kimberley Brownlee 

According to Aristotle, without friends, we would not choose to live, even if we had all other goods. The Sociability Project is a three-year research project funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant that aims to make sense of this idea that being socially connected to each other is not just a fundamentally important good for us, but possibly the most important good we can secure.

The Sociability Project will explore the ethics and politics of sociability, including 1) key notions such as loneliness and the need to belong, which are well-established, but little-analysed ideas in psychology; 2) the duties we have to provide decent social contact to each other; 3) the interpersonal, social rights we may assert; 4) the virtues in being sociable; and 5) the value in being socially included. The Project will analyse the boundaries between social duty and virtue, and will apply an analysis of social rights, duties, and virtues to three specific areas of moral and political concern: 1) sociability and disability; 2) interspecies sociability; and 3) globalized sociability.

A detailed outline of the Objectives can be found here.

The Project team will include Kimberley Brownlee (PI), David Jenkins, postdoctoral research fellow, and Adam Neal, a fully funded PhD student.

The Project will run for three years and is affiliated with the interdisciplinary Warwick Centre for Ethics, Law and Public Affairs.

Project Advisors

Dave Archard, Professor of Philosophy, Queen's University Belfast

Elizabeth Brake, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Arizona State University

Matthew Clayton, Professor of Political Theory, University of Warwick

Philip Cook, Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Edinburgh

Anca Gheaus, Ramón y Cajal Fellow, Philosophy of Law Area, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona

Christoph Hoerl, Professor of Philosophy, University of Warwick

Andrew Mason, Professor of Political Theory, University of Warwick

James Nickel, Professor of Philosophy and Law, University of Miami

Felix Pinkert, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Vienna

Pamela Qualter, Professor of Psychology in Education, University of Manchester

Relevant Publications

Brownlee, Kimberley (2016), ‘The Lonely Heart Breaks: On the Right to be a Social Contributor’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume : doi: 10.1093/arisup/akw008.

This article uncovers a distinctively social type of injustice that lies in the kinds of wrongs we can do to each other specifically as social beings. The paper homes in on a particular type of social injustice, namely, social contribution injustice , which takes two distinct forms: 1) compromising a person’s social resources so as to deny her adequate scope to contribute socially, and 2) unjustly misvaluing a person as a social contributor.

Brownlee, Kimberley (2015), ‘Freedom of Association: It’s Not What You Think’, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 35: 2, 267-282.

This paper shows that associative freedom is not what we tend to think it is. Contrary to standard liberal thinking, it is neither a general moral permission to choose the society most acceptable to us nor a content-insensitive claim-right like the other personal freedoms with which it is usually lumped such as freedom of expression and religion. It is at most 1) a highly restricted moral permission to associate subject to constraints of consent, necessity, and burdensomeness, 2) a conditional moral permission not to associate provided our associative contributions are not needed, and 3) a highly constrained, content-sensitive moral claim-right that protects only those wrongful associations that honour other legitimate concerns such as consent, need, harm, and respect. This paper also shows that associative freedom is not as valuable as we tend to think it is. It is secondary to positive associative claim-rights that protect our fundamental social needs and are pre-conditions for any associative control worth the name.

Brownlee, Kimberley (2016), ‘Ethical Dilemmas of Sociability’, Utilitas , 28, 54-72

There is a tension between our need for associative control and our need for social connections. This tension creates ethical dilemmas that we can call each-we dilemmas of sociability. To resolve these dilemmas, we must prioritize either negative moral rights to dissociate or positive moral rights to social inclusion. This article shows that we must prioritize positive social rights. This has implications both for personal morality and for political theory. As persons, we must attend to each other’s basic social needs. As a society, we must adopt a sufficientarian approach to the regulation of social resources.

Brownlee, Kimberley (2013), ‘A Human Right against Social Deprivation’, Philosophical Quarterly, 63: 251, 199-222.

This article outlines the core defence for the human right against social deprivation understood as a persisting lack of minimally adequate opportunities for decent social contact. Such deprivation is endured not only in arenas of institutional segregation by prisoners and patients held in long-term solitary confinement and quarantine, but also by persons who suffer less organized forms of persistent social mistreatment. This human right can be fleshed out both as a civil and political right and as a socio-economic right. Its defence faces familiar objections of undue burdensomeness, unclaimability, and infeasibility, as well as some less familiar objections of illiberality, intolerability, and family ideals. All of these objections can be answered.


Being Social, Castan Centre for Human Rights, 17 April 2014.
Social Contribution Injustice, Moral Philosophy Seminar, Oxford, 23 February 2015.
• Interview on Social Deprivation with Philosophy Bites, 19 August 2015.
• Interview on Social Deprivation with Hullabaloo, RRR Radio, Melbourne, 16 April 2014 (begins at 1:46.15)
• 'The Myth of Self-Reliance', Aeon, February 2016.


Age UK
The Campaign to End Loneliness
Jo Cox Commission