David B. Lyons

David B. Lyons

Professor of Law Emeritus

Law Alumni Scholar
Professor of Philosophy, Boston University College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

BA, Brooklyn College
MA and PhD in Philosophy, Harvard University
Postdoctoral Work, University of Oxford


Professor David Lyons joined Boston University School of Law in 1995, teaching upper-level courses focusing on the intersection of philosophy and the law. His eight books include studies of utilitarianism and moral rights, the nature of law and legal interpretation, the work of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and the problem of confronting grave injustices in American law and political theory.

Before obtaining his BA in philosophy and American studies, Professor Lyons studied engineering and worked for several years as a machinist and draftsman. After earning advanced degrees in philosophy, he taught at Cornell University from 1964 to 1995, where he was a Susan Linn Sage Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Law, served as chairman of the philosophy department, helped develop the Program on Ethics and Public Life and received the Clark Distinguished Teaching Award.

Professor Lyons has received major research fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). He has directed NEH summer seminars for lawyers, judges, and law professors and has taught in California’s continuing judicial education program.

A political activist since the 1940s, Professor Lyons has helped to organize community-wide forums on behalf of the BU Faculty for a Humane Foreign Policy and the Coalition for Social Justice.

  1. David B. Lyons, The Color Line: A Short Introduction, Routledge (2020).
  2. David B. Lyons, "Reparations for Slavery and Jim Crow: Its Assumptions and Implications," in Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Race 505, Naomi Zack, ed., Oxford University Press (2017). Publisher | Scholarly Commons
  3. David B. Lyons, "Wealth Concentration, Racial Subordination, and Political Corruption," in Wealth 226, Nomos LVIII, Jack Knight & Melissa Schwartzberg, eds., NYU Press (2017). Publisher
  4. David B. Lyons, review of Christopher J. Lebron, The Color of Our Shame: Race and Justice in Our Time, Oxford University Press (2013), 43 Political Theory 862 (2015).
  5. David B. Lyons, "Civil Disobedience," in The Cambridge Rawls Lexicon, J. Mandle & D. A. Reidy, eds., Cambridge University Press, 104 (2014).
  6. David B. Lyons, "Conscientious Refusal," in The Cambridge Rawls Lexicon, J. Mandle & D. A. Reidy, eds., Cambridge University Press, 139 (2014).
  7. David B. Lyons, "Fairness, Principle of," in The Cambridge Rawls Lexicon, J. Mandle & D. A. Reidy, eds., Cambridge University Press, 273 (2014).
  8. David B. Lyons, "The Natural Duty of Justice," in The Cambridge Rawls Lexicon, J. Mandle & D. A. Reidy, eds., Cambridge University Press, 551 (2014).
  9. David B. Lyons, "Professed Values, Constructive Interpretation, and Political History: Comments on Sotirios Barber, The Fallacies of States' Rights," in Symposium Utopia as Dystopia?: A Symposium on Sotirios A. Barber's The Fallacies of States' Rights and Michael S. Greve's The Upside-Down Constitution, 94 Boston University Law Review 1395 (2014).
  10. David B. Lyons, "The Utilitarian Justification of the State," in The Norton Introduction to Philosophy, G. Rosen, Alex Byrne, Joshua Cohen & Seana Valentine Shiffrin, eds., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 970 (2015).
  11. David B. Lyons, Confronting Injustice: Moral History and Political Theory, Oxford University Press (2013).
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  12. David B. Lyons, "Reason, Morality, and Constitutional Compliance," in Symposium On Constitutional Obligation and Disobedience: A Symposium on Abner S. Green's Against Obligation and Louis Michael Seidman's On Constitutional Disobedience, 93 Boston University Law Review 1381 (2013).
  13. David B. Lyons, "Slavery and the Rule of Law in Early Virginia," in Confronting Injustice: Moral History and Political Theory 14, David B. Lyons, ed., Oxford University Press (2013). SSRN
  14. David B. Lyons, "The Social Dimension of Rights," 44 Journal of Social Philosophy 43 (2013).
  15. David B. Lyons, "The Tenuous Rule of Law," in Civic Values, Civic Practices 35, D. W. Harward, ed., Bringing Theory to Practice (2013). Publisher
  16. David B. Lyons, "Constitutional Principles," in Symposium Originalism and Living Constitutionalism: A Symposium on Jack Balkin's Living Originalism and David Strauss's The Living Constitution, 92 Boston University Law Review 1237 (2012).
  17. David B. Lyons, "Violence and Political Incivility," 63 Mercer Law Review 835 (2012).
  18. David B. Lyons, "Courage and Political Resistance," in Symposium , 90 Boston University Law Review (2010).
  19. David B. Lyons, "Moral Limits of Dworkin's Theory of Law and Legal Interpretation," in Symposium Justice for Hedgehogs: A Conference on Ronald Dworkin's Forthcoming Book, 90 Boston University Law Review 595 (2010).
  20. David B. Lyons, "Response," 90 Boston University Law Review 1869 (2010).
  21. David B. Lyons, "The Legal Entrenchment of Illegality," in The Legacy of H. L. A. Hart 29, M. Kramer et al., eds., Oxford University Press (2008).
  22. David B. Lyons, "From Politics to Philosophy," in Legal Philosophy - 5 Questions 153, M. E. J. Nielsen, ed., Automatic Press/VIP (2007).
  23. David B. Lyons, "Racial Injustices in US History and Their Legacy," in Redress for Historical Injustices in the United States; On Reparations for Slavery, Jim Crow, and Their Legacies 33, M. T. Martin & Marilyn Yaquinto, eds., Duke University Press (2007).
  24. David B. Lyons, review of Frederick Rosen, Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill, Routledge (2003), 18 Utilitas 173 (2006).
  25. David B. Lyons, "Rights and Recognition," 32 Social Theory and Practice 1 (2006).
  26. David B. Lyons, "Legal and Moral Rights," in IVR Encyclopaedia of Jurisprudence, Legal Theory, and Philosophy of Law, IVR, (2005).
  27. David B. Lyons, "Corrective Justice, Equal Opportunity, and the Legacy of Slavery and Jim Crow," 84 Boston University Law Review 1375 (2004).
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  28. David B. Lyons, "Reparations and Equal Opportunity," 24 Boston College Third World Law Journal 177 (2004).
    HeinOnline (BU) | HeinOnline | Westlaw | Scholarly Commons
  29. David B. Lyons, "Unfinished Business: Racial Junctures in US History and Their Legacy," in Justice in Time: Responding to Historical Injustice 271, Lukas H. Meyer, ed., Nomos (2003).
  30. David B. Lyons, "Osad Moralny a Teoria Prawa (Moral Judgment and Legal Theory)," 1 Ius et Lex 63 (2002).
  31. David B. Lyons, "The Moral Opacity of Utilitarianism," in Morality, Rules, and Consequences, A Critical Reader 105, B. Hooker, E. Mason & Dale E. Miller, eds., Edinburgh University Press (2000).
  32. David B. Lyons, "Hart, H. L. A.," in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2d ed., Robert Audi, ed., Cambridge University Press, 362 (1999).
  33. David B. Lyons, "Open Texture and the Possibility of Legal Interpretation," 18 Law and Philosophy 297 (1999).
  34. David B. Lyons, "Original Intent and Legal Interpretation," 24 Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy 1 (1999).
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  35. David B. Lyons, "Moral Judgment, Historical Reality, and Civil Disobedience," 27 Philosophy and Public Affairs 31 (1998).
  36. David B. Lyons, Mill's Utilitarianism: Critical Essays, Rowman & Littlefield (1997).
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  37. David B. Lyons, "Utilitarianism," in The Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Business Ethics, P. H. Werhane & R. E. Freeman, eds., Blackwell Business, 640 (1997).
  38. David B. Lyons, "Civil Disobedience," in Philosophy of Education: An Encyclopedia, Joseph James Chambliss, ed., Garland Publishing Company, 82 (1996).
  39. David B. Lyons, review of John Rawls, Political Liberalism, Columbia University Press (1993), 12 Economics and Philosophy 221 (1996).
  40. David B. Lyons, "Political Responsibility and Resistance to Civil Government," 26 Philosophical Exchange 5 (1996).
  41. David B. Lyons, "Utilitarianism," in Philosophy of Education: An Encyclopedia, Joseph James Chambliss, ed., Garland Publishing Company, 651 (1996).
  42. David B. Lyons, "The Concept of Law (Second Edition) by H. L. A. Hart," 111 Law Quarterly Review 519 (1995).
  43. David B. Lyons, "The Balance of Injustice and the War for Independence," 45 Monthly Review 17 and 38 (1994).
  44. David B. Lyons, review of Chaim Gans, Philosophical Anarchism and Political Disobedience, Cambridge University Press (1992), 103 Philosophical Review 734 (1994).
  45. David B. Lyons, "Radical Resisters," 21 Cornell Law Forum 3 (1994).
  46. David B. Lyons, Rights, Welfare, and Mill's Moral Theory, Oxford University Press (1994).
  47. David B. Lyons, "Critical Analysis and Constructive Interpretation," in Moral Aspects of Legal Theory 202, Cambridge University Press (1993).
  48. David B. Lyons, Moral Aspects of Legal Theory: Essays on Law, Justice, and Political Responsibility, Cambridge University Press (1993).
  49. David B. Lyons, "Normal Law, Nearly Just Societies, and Other Myths of Legal Theory," 55 Archiv fur Rechts - und Sozialphilosophie 13 (1993).
  50. David B. Lyons, "Rights Revisited," in Social Philosophy Today, Number 8: The Bill of Rights: Bicentennial Reflections 21, Y. Hudson & C. Peder, eds., Edwin Mellen Press (1993). Published as Aspectos Morales de la Teoria del Derecho: Ensayos Sobre la Ley, la Justicia y la Responsabilidad Politica, Editorial Gedisa (1998). [Spanish]
  51. David B. Lyons, "Bentham, Utilitarianism, and Distribution," review of P. J. Kelly, Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice: Bentham and the Civil Law, Oxford University Press (1990), 4 Utilitas 323 (1992).
  52. David B. Lyons, "Utilitarianism," in Encyclopedia of Ethics, L. Becker, ed., Garland Publishing Company, 1261 (1992).
  53. David B. Lyons, In the Interest of the Governed, rev. ed., Clarendon Press (1991).
  54. David B. Lyons, "Basic Rights and Constitutional Interpretation," 16 Social Theory and Practice 337 (1990).
  55. David B. Lyons, review of Mark Tushnet, Red, White, and Blue: A Critical Analysis of Constitutional Law, Harvard University Press (1988), 34 New York Law School Law Review 727 (1990). HeinOnline
  56. David B. Lyons, "Rethinking 'Original Intent’," 17:2 Cornell Law Forum __ (1990).
  57. David B. Lyons, "Ambiguity, Incoherence, and Evaluation in Constitutional Theory," Philosophical Exchange 5 (1988).
  58. David B. Lyons, review of Ross Harrison, Bentham, Routladge & Kegan Paul (1983), 85 Journal of Philosophy 154 (1988).
  59. David B. Lyons, "A Preface to Constitutional Theory," 15 Northern Kentucky Law Review 459 (1988).
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  60. David B. Lyons, "Reconstructing Legal Theory," review of Ronald Dworkin, Law's Empire, Belknap Press (1986), 16 Philosophy & Public Affairs 379 (1987).
  61. David B. Lyons, "Soper's Moral Conception of Law," review of Philip Soper, A Theory of Law, Harvard University Press (1984), 98 Ethics 158 (1987).
  62. David B. Lyons, "Substance, Process and Outcome in Constitutional Theory," 72 Cornell Law Review 745 (1987).
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  63. David B. Lyons, "The Connection Between Law and Morality: Comments on Dworkin," 36 Journal of Legal Education 485 (1986).
    HeinOnline (BU) | HeinOnline
  64. David B. Lyons, "Constitutional Interpretation and Original Meaning," 4 Social Philosophy & Policy 75 (1986).
  65. David B. Lyons, "The Normativity of Law," in Issues in Contemporary Legal Philosophy: The Influence of H. L. A. Hart 114, R. Gavison, ed., Clarendon Press (1986).
  66. David B. Lyons, "Derivability, Defensibility, and the Justification of Judicial Decisions," 68 The Monist 325 (1985).
  67. David B. Lyons, "Formal Justice and Judicial Precedent," 38 Vanderbilt Law Review 495 (1985).
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  68. David B. Lyons, "Justification and Easy Cases," 25 Supplementary Volume - Archiv fur Rechts - und Sozialphilosophie 162 (1985).
  69. David B. Lyons, review of Samuel Scheffler, The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions, Clarendon Press (1982), 95 Ethics 936 (1985).
  70. David B. Lyons, "Utilitarianism," in The Social Science Encyclopedia, A. Kuper & J. Kuper, eds., Routledge & Kegan Paul, 877 (1985).
  71. David B. Lyons, review of H. L. A. Hart, Essays in Jurisprudence and Philosophy, Oxford University Press (1983), Times Literary Supplement 539 (1984).
  72. David B. Lyons, Ethics and the Rule of Law, Cambridge University Press (1984). Published as: As Regras Morais e a Etica, Editora Papirus (1990). [Portuguese]; Etica y Derecho, Editorial Ariel (1986). [Spanish]; Etyka I Rzady Prawa, ABC Wolters Kluwer (2000). [Polish]
  73. David B. Lyons, "Formal Justice, Moral Commitment, and Judicial Precedent," 81 Journal of Philosophy 580 (1984).
  74. David B. Lyons, "Founders and Foundations of Legal Positivism," review of H. L. A. Hart, Essays on Bentham, Oxford University Press (1982) and W. L. Morison, John Austin, Hodder & Stoughton Educational (1982), 82 Michigan Law Review 1301 (1984). HeinOnline (BU) | HeinOnline | Westlaw
  75. David B. Lyons, review of Neil MacCormick, H. L. A. Hart, Stanford University Press (1981), 93 Philosophical Review 112 (1984).
  76. David B. Lyons, "Justification and Judicial Responsibility," 72 California Law Review 301 (1984).
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  77. David B. Lyons, review of James Fishkin, Limits of Obligation, Yale University Press (1982), 93 Ethics 327 (1984).
  78. David B. Lyons, review of Neil MacCormick, H. L. A. Hart, Stanford University Press (1981), 68 Cornell Law Review 257 (1983). Westlaw
  79. David B. Lyons, "The Role of the Attorney General's Chambers in Hong Kong," 13 Hong Kong Law Journal 280 (1983).
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  80. David B. Lyons, review of Joseph Raz, The Authority of Law: Essays on Law and Morality, Clarendon Press (1979), 91 Philosophical Review 461 (1982).
  81. David B. Lyons, "Benevolence and Justice in Mill," in The Limits of Utilitarianism 42, Harlen B. Miller & William H. Williams, eds., University of Minnesota Press (1982).
  82. David B. Lyons, "Moral Aspects of Legal Theory," 7 Midwest Studies in Philosophy 223 (1982).
  83. David B. Lyons, "Utility and Rights," in Nomos 24: Ethics, Economics, and the Law 107, J. R. Pennock & J. W. Chapman, eds., New York University Press (1982).
  84. David B. Lyons, "Legal Formalism and Instrumentalism -- A Pathological Study," 66 Cornell Law Review 949 (1981).
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  85. David B. Lyons, "Need, Necessity, and Political Obligation," 67 Virginia Law Review 63 (1981).
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  86. David B. Lyons, "Utility as a Possible Ground of Rights," 14 Nous 17 (1980).
  87. David B. Lyons, "Liberty and Harm to Others," in New Essays on John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism: Supplemental Volume 5 1, Wesley E. Cooper, K. Nielsen & S. C. Patten, eds., Canadian Association for Publishing in Philosophy (1979).
  88. David B. Lyons, Rights, Wadsworth Publishing Company (1979). [Editor]
  89. David B. Lyons, "Apology for Rights," 3 Cornell Review 24 (1978).
  90. David B. Lyons, "Mill's Theory of Justice," in Values and Morals: Essays in Honor of William Frankena, Charles Stevenson, and Richard Brandt 1, A. I. Goldman & J. Kim, eds., Reidel (1978).
  91. David B. Lyons, "Rights, Utility, and Racial Discrimination," in Philosophical Law 74, R. Bronaugh, ed., Greenwood Press (1978).
  92. David B. Lyons, "Human Rights and the General Welfare," 6 Philosophy & Public Affairs 113 (1977).
  93. David B. Lyons, "The New Indian Claims and Original Rights to Land," 4 Social Theory and Practice 249 (1977).
  94. David B. Lyons, "Principles, Positivism, and Legal Theory," review of Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously, Harvard University Press , 87 Yale Law Journal 415 (1977). Westlaw
  95. David B. Lyons, "Ethical Relativism and the Problem of Incoherence," 86 Ethics 107 (1976).
    SSRN | Scholarly Commons
  96. David B. Lyons, "Mill's Theory of Morality," 10 Nous 101 (1976).
  97. David B. Lyons, "Rights Against Humanity," review of Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Basic Books , 85 Philosophical Review 208 (1976).
  98. David B. Lyons, "The Nature and Soundness of the Contract and Coherence Arguments," in Reading Rawls 141, N. Daniels, ed., Basic Books (1975).
  99. David B. Lyons, "The Nature of the Contract Argument," 59 Cornell Law Review 1064 (1975).
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  100. David B. Lyons, "On Justifying Enforced Requirements: A Reply to Baier," 9 Journal of Value Inquiry 42 (1974).
  101. David B. Lyons, In the Interest of the Governed: A Study in Bentham's Philosophy of Utility and Law, Clarendon Press (1973).
  102. David B. Lyons, "On Formal Justice," 58 Cornell Law Review 833 (1973).
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  103. David B. Lyons, "Logic and Coercion in Bentham's Theory of Law," 57 Cornell Law Review 335 (1972).
    HeinOnline (BU) | HeinOnline
  104. David B. Lyons, "On Reading Bentham," An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, J. H. Burns & H. L. A. Hart, eds., Hafner Publishing Company (1961) and Of Laws in General, H. L. A. Hart, ed., Athlone Press (1970), 47 Philosophy 74 (1972).
  105. David B. Lyons, "Rawls Versus Utilitarianism," 69 Journal of Philosophy 535 (1972).
  106. David B. Lyons, "Was Bentham a Utilitarian?" in Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures: Reason and Reality 196, Godfrey Vesey, ed., MacMillan (1972).
  107. David B. Lyons, "The Correlativity of Rights and Duties," 4 Nous 45 (1970).
  108. David B. Lyons, "The Internal Morality of Law," 71 Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 105 (1970).
  109. David B. Lyons, review of Nicholas Rescher, Distributive Justice: A Constructive Critique of the Utilitarian Theory of Distribution, Bobbs-Merrill Co. (1966), 78 Philosophical Review 265 (1969).
  110. David B. Lyons, "On Sanctioning Excuses," 66 Journal of Philosophy 646 (1969).
  111. David B. Lyons, "Rights, Claimants, and Beneficiaries," 6 American Philosophical Quarterly 173 (1969).
  112. David B. Lyons, Forms and Limits of Utilitarianism, Clarendon Press (1965).
  113. David B. Lyons, "Baier's Test for Practical Rules Re-Examined," 14 Philosophical Studies 18 (1963).
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