Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Gualtiero Piccinini


William Dunaway

Gualtiero Piccinini

Eric Wiland


First, I categorize the liberal theories of self-determination into two broad categories of nationalist and non-nationalist theories. Then, I argue that both of these categories ultimately fail to fully account for the major problems normally associated with the demands of self-determination. In particular, I argue that liberal political theorists, by and large, advocate a forward-looking account of justice, which makes the starting point from which they build their arguments not neutral. They largely ignore how a state has come to govern a particular minority. Instead, they are mainly concerned with the current and future conditions under which the right to self-determination is justified. Ignoring historical justice in theories of self-determination has led to a theoretical bias in favor of the status quo, the ‘peoples’ (nations) that already possess a state, and thus the inability of these theories (and of states and international legal systems) to fully recognize the right of self-determination for minority (and minoritized) nations. While still committed to liberalism as a theoretical ground—and based on a collective conception of Locke’s Theory of Natural Property Rights and Nozick’s Doctrine of Historical Entitlement—I argue that there is a need for re-conceptualization of justice in the context of the relationship between national minorities and their parent states to also account for their contemporary historical context—a conception of justice that I argue is better suited for addressing the claims of self-determination than its rival distributive, forward-looking conceptions of justice.

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