Monsters and the theoretical role of context

Brian Rabern, Derek Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Kaplan (1989) famously claimed that monsters—operators that shift the context—do not exist in English and “could not be added to it”. Several re- cent theorists have pointed out a range of data that seem to refute Kaplan’s claim, but others (most explicitly Stalnaker 2014) have offered a principled argument that monsters are impossible. This paper interprets and resolves the dispute. Contra appearances, this is no dry, technical matter: it cuts to the heart of a deep disagreement about the fundamental structure of a semantic theory. We argue that: (i) the interesting notion of a monster is not an operator that shifts some formal parameter, but rather an operator that shifts parameters that play a certain theoretical role; (ii) one cannot determine whether a given semantic theory allows monsters simply by look- ing at the formal semantics; (iii) theories which forbid shifting the formal “context” parameter are perfectly compatible with the existence of monsters (in the interesting sense). We explain and defend these claims by contrasting two kinds of semantic theory—Kaplan’s (1989) and Lewis’s (1980).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)392-416
JournalPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research
Issue number2
Early online date6 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2019


  • Semantics
  • Content
  • Monsters
  • Context sensitivity
  • David Kaplan
  • David Lewis
  • Context shifting


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