Skip to content

Bede Rundle

Lecturer Emeritus in Philosophy, University of Oxford

Bede Rundle was New Zealand-born philosopher and emeritus lecturer of philosophy at the University of Oxford, specializing in philosophy of language and metaphysics.

He is the author of Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, which argues for a distinctively philosophical explanation of existence, as opposed to a physical or theological kind. Bede’s claim is that while Nothing might indeed have been a logical possibility, we do have Something, so that what we see as that Something, which is the matter and energy of our universe, not some ethereal God or some such, is the best candidate for that which has always existed in some form or another.

Rundle made substantial contributions to the philosophy of language, mind and action, to metaphysics and to philosophical theology. He defended the currently unpopular but correct view that philosophy is not, like science, a cognitive discipline building theories, but a critical enterprise of human self-reflection. In this he stood in the tradition of Aristotle, Kant and Wittgenstein and gave us a model of how to do philosophy.

Rundle thought in whole books, six of them over 37 years: meticulously crafted, rich in insights and packed with arguments. Grammar in Philosophy (1979), opening with, “Philosophy may begin with wonder, but it soon ends up in confusion”, is one of the most ambitious and important books in philosophy of language since Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. In it, Rundle attacks prevailing conceptions of key semantic concepts, such as meaning, truth, reference and necessity. His early specialization was mathematical logic, which he taught for 10 years at Oxford. But under the influence of Wittgenstein’s writings, he came to think that to understand the nature and role of language in our lives, the abstract logical and linguistic frameworks pioneered by Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell and Noam Chomsky are less relevant than careful and detailed investigation of how language is employed by ordinary language speakers, including scientists.

Rundle was educated there at St Patrick’s college and Victoria University. His interest in philosophy was sparked when, as a boy, he chanced across CEM Joad’s introduction to the subject in the local library. After gaining his first degree in 1959, he went to Magdalen College, Oxford. There he played tennis for the college with the lawyer Michael Beloff, and table tennis for the university. On completing his BPhil in 1961, he went to Queen’s College as a Junior Research Fellow for two years before being elected to the Trinity fellowship.

He held visiting professorships in the US, but turned down offers for chairs, preferring the tutorial system, whose recent decline he deplored. An unassuming and generous figure, he was very popular with his students. He took his role as a tutor for graduates just as seriously as that of being the senior common room wine steward.


Topic Series


Perception, Sensation and Verification

Buy the Book

Time, Space, and Metaphysics

Buy the Book

Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing

Buy the Book

Mind in Action

Buy the Book

Wittgenstein and Contemporary Philosophy of Language

Buy the Book