CEU Mourns the Loss of Founding Member William Newton-Smith

April 13, 2023

Bill Newton-Smith, analytic philosopher of science, a logician, and emeritus fellow of Balliol College, Oxford passed away at the age of 80. Bill was the Chair of the Executive Committee – the predecessor of the Board – of CEU, which laid down the foundations of the University. He had been the de facto Rector of CEU before Alfred Stepan was elected as the first Rector in 1993. He then served as a CEU Trustee between 1995 and 2016.

Bill received his first degree in mathematics and philosophy in Canada and earned his DPhil in philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, where he became a fellow, tutor, and Praefectus of Holywell Manor, the postgraduate college of Balliol. He published several professionally well-received books, among them Logic, The Rationality of Science, and Modelling the Mind. Perhaps his most important book is The Structure of Time, a work on the philosophy of time.

He sacrificed part of his career for fighting against authoritarian regimes in East and Central Europe, helping discriminated scholars, persecuted academics, and students living under communist regimes. Responding to a letter, a cry for help by the dissident Czech philosopher, Julius Tomin that miraculously reached Oxford, Bill Newton-Smith immediately proposed setting up the Jan Hus Education Foundation, an underground education network in Czechoslovakia. The Foundation which became an international network of distinguished philosophers, sent scholars to Prague to lecture at illegal underground seminars and smuggle books into the country behind the Iron Curtain. The Foundation was considered "the center of ideological subversion" by the Czech secret police. Visiting philosophers, like Roger Scruton, Jacques Derrida, Charles Taylor, Thomas Nagel, Jürgen Habermas, Steven Lukes, and Bill Newton-Smith were either arrested or expelled from the country. The Foundation learned only in 1992, after the Velvet Revolution that financial support for the clandestine academic network, the invisible university, came from George Soros.

Newton-Smith played an important role in the life of the Dubrovnik Inter-University Center, one of the few meeting places for students and faculty from East and West, the cradle of CEU. Bill was instrumental in bringing East and Central European students on scholarship to Oxford, and on George Soros' invitation, became the leading force behind the establishment of CEU. He wrote a short and extremely modest memoir about the pre-, and early history of CEU, and left it to the Blinken OSA Archivum. He was a modest, unpretentious, and good person, who has always downplayed his central role in fighting authoritarianism with the force of pure reason, by establishing clandestine, illegal, or legal educational institutions.

by Istvan Rev, Director of Blinken OSA Archivum and Professor at CEU's Department of History