Bedau first realized he had a philosophical bent when he was living in Portland as a fourth-grader (while his father was teaching at Reed), and a friend failed to show up for a touch football game. "As I stood there waiting on the Reed lawn, I moved from worrying about practical matters—perhaps we had miscommunicated and I was there on the wrong day—to wondering about abstract issues. I realized that, just as I could be wrong about this appointment, I could be wrong about everything I had previously thought . . . wrong about all the assumptions in my life.
"I became fascinated by all the mistaken beliefs I could conceivably have, even the belief that I was alive. I thought I might even have hallucinated my own existence. Then I concluded that I couldn't be wrong about everything, because the fact that I was thinking about these issues meant that I had to exist."
When he entered Reed as a student almost a decade later, Bedau had no idea what he would study. "I backed into philosophy, in spite of the fact rather than because of the fact that my father was teaching it." He was one of the first senior thesis students of Reeve, who was then beginning his career at Reed and remembers Bedau as a brilliant student.
After earning his Ph.D. at the University of California–Berkeley in 1985, Bedau taught philosophy at Dartmouth, where he became involved in a computer project that developed a universal system of logic for use by philosophy students. In 1991 Bedau returned to Reed once more, this time to teach.
The turning point in his development as a philosopher came about 10 years ago, just before coming to Reed. He was invited to give a speech on teleology—the purposefulness and goal-directed behavior of living systems—before the Santa Fe Institute, a New Mexico think tank.
Bedau is typically wry when he describes how the invitation came about. "This group of scientists was wondering what life is, and they knew teleology was somehow involved, but teleology was as puzzling as life. So they figured what could they lose? They might as well invite this philosopher who thought he could tell them the answer."