Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Bill Lawson

Committee Member

Remy Debes

Committee Member

Mary Beth Mader

Committee Member

Laurence Thomas


An ongoing social and political problem in America is how to bring about full racial justice for African Americans, particularly in regards to disadvantaged African-American communities. Give that American institutions, laws and political culture are rooted in ideas found in liberal political philosophy, it is apropos to investigate how liberalism addresses racial justice and whether it can serve as an effective guide towards fully realizing African-American racial justice. In this dissertation, I use liberal political philosophy in the tradition of J. S. Mill, John Rawls and classical British social contract theorists to provide insight into the socio-political status, and obligations of disadvantaged African-American communities. In the latter chapters I investigate whether liberalism can adequately address African-American racial justice. First, I argue that the socio-political status of disadvantaged African-American communities is better understood in the context of John Locke's "state of war" rather than Thomas Hobbes's "state of nature." Next, I argue that civic duties should not be conflated with natural duties in the case of disadvantaged African-American communities. Although such communities are not obligated to perform civic duties as Tommie Shelby argues, they are required to perform natural duties in most cases. In the following chapter, I argue that Rawls's political theory is incapable of adequately addressing corrective racial justice for African Americans, partly due to his reliance on ideal theory. I propose the addition of a new non-ideal principle of justice that explcitly addresses the impact of white supremacy and psychic harm in relation to African-American communities. Finally, I argue that due to traditional liberalism's strict committment to autonomy and tendency to over-rely on ideal theory, it is theoretically and practically incapable of providing a means to bring about full racial equality for African Americans.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.