Rundle, Bede

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Rundle, Bede




Office—Trinity College, Oxford University, Broad St., Oxford OX1 3BH, England.


Writer, educator, philosopher. Trinity College, Oxford University, Oxford, England, fellow, tutor.


Perception, Sensation and Verification, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1972.

Grammar in Philosophy, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1979.

Wittgenstein and Contemporary Philosophy of Language, B. Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1990.

Facts, Duckworth (London, England), 1993.

Mind in Action, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of articles to scholarly journals.


Bede Rundle is a philosopher at Oxford University's Trinity College and the author of several books that explore questions ranging from the nature of perception to the reason for a material world. His first book, Perception, Sensation and Verification, is an investigation and analysis of perception in both the human and animal world. A reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement felt that this was an "important work [that] breaks new ground in two respects." First, as the reviewer noted, "it develops one version of a novel and powerful theory of meaning adumbrated and named ‘anti-realism’ by M.A.E. Dummett." According to the same reviewer, Perception, Sensation and Verification secondly "relates problems in the philosophy of mind to an explicit semantic theory." Rundle thus attempts in this first book to test the theory of antirealism by exploring how well it can help elucidate various theories of mind. "The whole work is dense with ingenious arguments," continued the Times Literary Supplement critic, "and in toto it is a praiseworthy attempt."

With his 1979 work Grammar in Philosophy, Rundle covers many of the major topics in the philosophy of language, with special emphasis on the concepts of noun and verb phrases as well as numbers and the underlying questions of meaning with which such constructs deal. Peter Geach, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, explained Rundle's program in this work as an attempt "to clarify questions about existence, meaning, facts and truth by appealing to elementary considerations about the syntax and semantics of ordinary language." Geach appeared to be of two minds about Grammar in Philosophy, terming it simultaneously "laborious, heavy, busy, bold and blind."

With his 1990 work Wittgenstein and Contemporary Philosophy of Language, Rundle tackles various technical aspects of the Austrian philosopher's theory of language, including ostensive definition, explanations of meaning, intention and belief, and the meaning of linguistic forms. From Wittgenstein, Rundle returns to theories of the mind in Mind in Action. Here he challenges the thesis that, as Daniel D. Hutto wrote in Philosophical Investigations, "the mental must have a causal aspect, or more forcefully, must be defined in terms of its causal aspect." While Hutto had reservations about Rundle's arguments, he felt the author was "at his best when he attempts to embarrass the supporters of the dominant causalist position by focusing on their standardly unquestioned, yet questionable assumptions."

Rundle takes on larger questions of meaning in Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, which is "stimulating and well-written," according to Erik J. Olsson, writing for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Olsson further noted that Rundle insists "that the problem of existence" has a "reasonably clear solution," one that is philosophical rather than "physical or theological." In the first half of the book, Rundle examines religious or theistic views in which God was the moving force behind the creation of the world. Existence, in this view, "exists" because God wills it so. Rundle then presents arguments to counter these theories, primary among them being the complaint that a material world could hardly be created by a spirit that does not have material form. The opposite view of creation is provided by science, which hopes to prove conclusively by mechanical and physical means how the universe was formed. But Rundle chooses to take a middle path, via philosophy and language, to find meaning. Rundle presents his own theory, arguing, as Olsson noted, that while no individual being's existence is a necessity, something or other had to exist in the beginning. "The suggestion is that it is inconceivable that there should have been literally nothing." Olsson further observed, "In identifying what he takes to be a false presupposition, Rundle claims to have provided a genuinely philosophical answer to the central question of existence." He went on to comment, "In raising the question concerning the intelligibility of complete nothingness, Rundle puts his finger on an important problem which other authors have taken too lightly." Rundle once again draws heavily upon Ludwig Wittgenstein and his philosophy of language to find meaning in the universe, to construct something out of nothing.

Rundle's work received widespread attention in the philosophical community. Writing in the Review of Metaphysics, J.F. Bannan described Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing as "a tightly reasoned, ordinary-language treatment" of the topic. Bannan went on to explicate Rundle's thesis: "There could never have been nothing because if there had been there would be nothing now." The corollary, then, is that the universe "is permanent," since it need never have begun and so has no need to end. For Bannan, "Rundle's thinking implies a quite robust picture of the physical universe." Nicholas Everitt, reviewing the same work in Religious Studies, found it "elegantly written." Everitt further observed that Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing "rightly reminds us that in thinking about questions of ultimate explanation, it is often hard to be sure that we are making sense, and that we must constantly beware of mistaken pictures and false assumptions." However, Everitt also noted that Rundle's book "suffers from ignoring the attempted solutions to these problems which have been propounded by theists, and the dissolution of metaphysical puzzles which it proposes is implausible." Olsson had less qualified praise for Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, terming it an "original contribution to metaphysics [and] … a welcome contrast to much recent work of a more speculative nature."



Ethics, April, 2001, review of Mind in Action, p. 668.

International Philosophical Quarterly, March, 2000, review of Mind in Action, p. 114.

Mind, January, 2000, William Fish, review of Mind in Action, p. 170; January, 2005, John Leslie, review of Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, p. 197.

Philosophical Investigations, January, 1999, Daniel D. Hutto, review of Mind in Action, p. 112.

Philosophical Quarterly, July, 1991, Charles Travis, review of Wittgenstein and Contemporary Philosophy of Language, p. 360.

Philosophical Review, October, 1999, Hugh J. McCann, review of Mind in Action, p. 566; April, 2007, Stephen Law, review of Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, p. 300.

Religious Studies, March, 2005, Nicholas Everitt, review of Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, p. 111.

Review of Metaphysics, March, 2006, J.F. Bannan, review of Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, p. 679.

Times Literary Supplement, September 22, 1972, review of Perception, Sensation and Verification, p. 1101; March 7, 1980, Peter Geach, review of Grammar in Philosophy, p. 268; May 7, 2004, Thomas Nagel, "Much Ado: There Is No Alternative to the Existence of Something," review of Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, p. 3.


Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, (March 5, 2005), Erik J. Olsson, review of Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing.

Trinity College, Oxford University Web site, (March 24, 2008), faculty profile.