Justifying Self-Determination:
The Republican Case for Group Freedom

Why ought certain groups be morally entitled to greater independence from their state? In our contemporary world, conflicts are ever increasing between states and sub-state groups. Examples include, Catalonia and Spain; Scotland and the UK; Quebec and Canada; Crimea and Ukraine, and many more. In 1960, a legal right to self-determination, a legal instrument for former colonies to establish independent statehood, became international law. This thesis does not focus on the legal question of which groups ought to be able to claim independent statehood under international law. Rather, it focuses on whether there is a plausible moral claim that certain groups have, which would justify them having more independence from their state.

Intuitively, it seems that certain groups ought to be entitled to independence within or from a state, when certain injustices have taken place. For example, Native Americans seem morally justified in having independent reservations and jurisdiction within the United States, given the genocide and territorial annexations that they suffered as a result of colonization. But how ought to we evaluate claims made by Catalonians or the Scots, when they wish to govern themselves more independently within their current state, or even seek secession?

I claim that existing justifications for group self-determination all (implicitly or explicitly) involve an appeal to group freedom. This project dissects the concept of group freedom, and the plausibility of mapping individual freedom onto group agents. Utilizing the account provided by Christian List and Philip Pettit in Group Agency (2011), I argue that there are important distinctions between individual and group freedom that must be taken into account when justifying rights to self-determination. Furthermore, I argue that the republican account of freedom, freedom as non-domination, espoused by Philip Pettit (1997, 2012, 2014) is the most plausible conception of freedom. Therefore, a group’s right to self-determination is morally justified on the basis of group freedom as non-domination.

PhD Student


Prof. Dr. Markus Stepanians
Prof. Dr. Anna Goppel

Abroad Supervision (June-December 2017):
Dr. Sarah Fine (King’s College London)