Improvisation as Original Ethics: Exploring the Ethical in Heidegger and Gadamer from a Musical Perspective


  • Sam McAuliffe Monash University



Martin Heidegger famously claimed that ethics needed to become “original” again, but offered no detailed insight into what an “original ethics” might be. Several commentators, however, find evidence of such an original ethics in the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer. In this paper I argue that an original ethics, as alluded to by Heidegger and taken up by Gadamer, depends upon a certain improvisational comportment, such that acting ethically involves spontaneously attending and responding to that which one encounters in factical existence. To substantiate this claim, I draw upon improvised musical performance as an exemplar, highlighting how the responsiveness at issue in musical improvisation is equally present in an original ethics, which is itself demonstrative of a practical, performative, and spontaneous engagement with the world. This account not only elucidates the improvisational character of ethics, it equally illuminates the nature of the ethical at issue in improvised musical performance.

Author Biography

Sam McAuliffe, Monash University

Sam McAuliffe is a PhD candidate at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. His research focusses on philosophical hermeneutics, place/topology, aesthetics, and music performance. He has had articles published in Critical HorizonsOrganised SoundJazz Perspectives, and the Journal of Aesthetic Education. He also plays guitar and has curated sound installations for major Australian art festivals.



2021-06-28 — Updated on 2021-06-28