Seminar: Constructing the World

David Chalmers

[This site is still under construction, with more readings, links, etc to be added. Please don't circulate the link beyond the seminar audience, as the book manuscripts aren't being publically circulated at this point.]

Seminar meetings: Monday 4-6pm, NYU Philosophy Department 2nd floor seminar room. Office hours: Tuesdays 3-5pm, Room 507


Overview: In Der Logische Aufbau Der Welt, Carnap argued that all truths are definitionally entailed by a very limited class of truths. Most philosophers think that the project of the Aufbau is a failure and that nothing like it can succeed. We will investigate the prospects for an Aufbau-like project, centering around what I call the Scrutability Thesis: all truths are a priori entailed by a very limited class of truths. We will also investigate connections and applications to central questions in epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and metaphilosophy. Topics that may be discussed along the way include: the analytic-synthetic distinction, the paradox of knowability, the a priori, reference magnets, metaontology, primitive concepts, verbal disputes, two-dimensional semantics, attitude ascriptions, the Fregean hierarchy, conceptual change, structuralism and Newman's problem, content internalism and externalism, Kripke's arguments against descriptivism, conditional probability, and epistemic possibility.


The main readings will be drawn from my book manuscripts Constructing the World and The Multiplicity of Meaning. Carnap's The Logical Structure of the World is recommended reading, but at last report it was out of stock at the publisher. I will make relevant excerpts available for week 2 when relevant.

Mailing list

I have set up an e-mail list, for seminar discussion. I view this list as a continuation of the seminar itself. Everyone enrolled in the class is expected to make reasonably regular contributions to this list (details TBA), and everyone involved in the seminar is encouraged to contribute.


Assessment will be based mainly on a final paper. Draft papers are encouraged. Their content will be play no constitutive role in assessment, but I will give feedback for revision for a final paper. I follow the departmental policy of only giving incompletes if a draft has been submitted. All incompletes must be completed by the start of spring semester.


Here is a very approximate plan for the course, with associated readings.  This is very likely to be revised as things develop.  The first reading on each list is the main reading for that week. Others are associated optional readings that you may like to pursue.

Week 1 (Mon 9/14): Introduction (slides)

Week 2 (Mon 9/21): The Aufbau ((slides)

Week 3 (Mon 9/28): Varieties of Scrutability (slides)

Week 4 (Mon 10/5): The Cosmoscope Argument (slides)

Week 5 (Mon 10/12): The Case for A Priori Scrutability (slides)

Week 6: Hard Cases (Mon 10/19)

Week 7: Minimizing the Base (Mon 10/26)


Week 8: Revisability and Conceptual Change (Mon 11/2)


Week 9: Verbal Disputes and Philosophical Progress (Mon 11/9)

Week 10: The Roots of Scrutability (Mon 11/16)

Week 11: Epistemic Space (Mon 11/23)

Two-Dimensional Semantics (Mon 11/30)

Two-Dimensional Content (Mon 12/7)

Propositions and Attitude Ascriptions (Mon 12/14)