Philosophy, Department of


Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Philosophy, Under the Supervision of Professor Nelson Potter. Lincoln, Nebraska: April, 2010
Copyright (c) 2010 Edward Abplanalp


This dissertation extends John Rawls’s mature theory of justice out to address the environmental challenges that citizens of liberal democracies now face. Specifically, using Rawls’s framework of political liberalism, I piece together a theory of procedural justice to be applied to a constitutional democracy. I show how citizens of pluralistic democracies should apply this theory to environmental matters in a four stage contracting procedure. I argue that, if implemented, this extension to Rawls’s theory would secure background environmental justice. I explain why the theory can be viewed as a partially specified political conception of environmental pragmatism, and how it relates to public environmental policy and discourse. While the framework is anthropocentric, it is one that reasonable non-anthropocentrists can endorse.

Using this theory, I argue that liberal democracies must take measures to secure basic environmental rights for all presently existing and future citizens. Measures must also be in place to secure a minimum of social goods (including environmental goods) that guarantees that all citizens (present and future) can exercise their basic rights and liberties. Moreover, disparities in environmental goods should only be tolerated if they arise in accord with Rawls’s principle of fair equality of opportunity. I discuss carbon taxes, as well as carbon allocation trading schemes. I also argue that free democracies should employ precautionary reasoning when attempting to meet the demands of background environmental justice.