Newton Garver

Published March 6, 2014

Newton Garver, for 34  years a distinguished, well-known and respected professor in the UB Department of Philosophy, died Feb. 8 in the country home built by his grandparents in East Concord, N.Y. He was 85.

Garver was a philosopher of language whose research and writing notably spoke to the work of Wittgenstein, as well as Derrida, Kant, Frege, Husserl and other philosophers. His subject matter included epistemology, as as well as non-violence, politics and speaking truth to power, which he certainly did.

 He was the author of four books, editor of two others, and wrote scores of articles published in peer-reviewed journals and anthologies in his field. He also was an invited visiting lecturer or professor at several universities, including the University of Michigan, Friends World College, the University of Rochester, Northwestern University and San Diego State University.

Garver, a member of the UB faculty from 1961 until his retirement in 1995 as a SUNY Distinguished Service Professor, was very active in UB academic life. He received more than a dozen grants for his work, directed 13 doctoral dissertations, won the SUNY/UUP Academic Excellence Award in 1990-91 and served as both parliamentarian and chair of the the Faculty Senate.

A graduate of Swarthmore College, Oxford University and Cornell University, Garver also was very active on committees of the American Philosophical Association and in his department, for which he chaired many committees for several conferences and colloquia.

Garver was a Quaker, a peace activist and a lifelong human rights advocate who took unpopular stands and held them in the face of threat. In 1964 as a young professor with four children, for instance, he refused to sign the loyalty oath required by the state’s Feinberg Law when UB became part of the SUNY system.

The law, which banned from the teaching profession anyone who called for the overthrow of the government, was specifically aimed at communists and had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952.

Claiming the oath violated the principals of his Quaker religion, Garver, along with other UB faculty members, filed a class action suit in this regard that resulted in a decision in 1967 by a different U.S. Supreme Court that the Feinberg Law was unconstitutional.

In 2002, Garver was a co-founder with several fellow Quakers of the Bolivian Quaker Education Fund (BQEF), in which he remained active until his death. The fund provides scholarships to help young Bolivian Quakers progress toward university or professional degrees. It is a program of which he was very proud.

Garver wrote, traveled and lectured extensively and retained contact with his friends, colleagues, former students and fans through his blog, in which he discussed his philosophical observations, views on politics and government, the war against nature, economic and environmental policies, various authors and philosophers, and his work with the BQEF.

In his last year, he never lost his sense of humor or his urge to report the facts, at least, of his final illness. He titled one 2013 update, “I enter my 86th year toothless” and in his most recent entry, one month before his death, wrote simply, “Lord, stay with us as we fare forward into new days,” words included in a poem he wrote on this theme.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. May 3, 2014 in the Orchard Park Quaker Meetinghouse, 6924 E. Quaker St., Orchard Park. Memorial donations may be made to The Newton Garver Scholarship Fund, c/o BQEF, 65 Spring St., Fredonia, N.Y., 14063, or to Hospice Buffalo.