Immanence and otherness as perceived by Plotinus, Marsilio Ficino, John Cage, and Victor Zuckerkandl

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




David L. Miller


Marsilio Ficino, John Cage, Victor Zuckerkandl, Italy, Philosophy, Music

Subject Categories

Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


Problem. Although many challenges have been levied against the dualistic perspectives which frequently characterize occidental worldviews, literalistic applications of hierarchical schemata continue to alienate phenomenological disciplines. This dissertation explores the anti-philosophical bent of many empiricists in terms of Neoplatonic insights into the dynamic relationships which distinguish different dimensions of being. Specifically theories about musica mundana, musica humana, and musica instrumentalis that have been developed by Plotinus and Marsilio Ficino are placed in conversation with the radically empiricist stance advanced by composer John Cage and the moderating position offered by music theorist Victor Zuckerkandl.

Procedure. After summarizing music theories put forth by Pythagoras and Plato (chapter 1), the positive influence which those theories have had on the thinking of Plotinus and Ficino is articulated (chapter 2). Then passages from these writers which seem to judge the phenomenal realm in negative terms are identified (chapter 3). The critique against such judgments which arises from John Cage's convictions regarding music's autonomy is presented (chapter 4) and evaluated in terms of the diverse components that constitute musica practica's "self" (chapter 5). Cage's immanentist focus is thus examined in terms of Neoplatonism's extra-sensory tendencies and revisioned in terms of music's self-transcendence.

With the tension between empiricist and metaphysical perspectives established, the prospect that musica practica may lead its participants beyond dualistic assumptions is considered in terms of the musical perspective advanced by Victor Zuckerkandl (chapter 6). The remainder of the dissertation explores the possibility that encounters which Cage and Zuckerkandl have with the musical result in insights into the interconnectedness of being which are similar to the understandings that distinguish the music theories of Plotinus and Ficino.

Conclusions. Throughout the dissertation, a "rhythmic" approach to the issues under consideration is employed. This approach anticipates and reveals the manner in which music's paradoxical nature enables dualistic perspectives to be relinquished. Absolute affirmations of otherness and/or immanence repeatedly are shattered in the writings of Plotinus, Cage, Ficino, Zuckerkandl, and myself because confrontations with the musicality of life replace apparent absolutes with the dynamism of paradox. New configurations of immanence and otherness enabled by this dynamism overcome false dichotomies that continue to be drawn between empirical realities and extra-sensory phenomena.


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