Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

Sinem Derya Kılıç

Sinem Derya KılıçPlato and music—the little connective ‘and’ hints at a relationship which has not been explored in its depth yet. In fact, none of Plato’s numerous works was entirely dedicated to the topic of music and therefore has the title Περ μουσικς (On Music) or is named after a famous musician who happens to be one of Socrates’s dialogue partners. This in turn does not mean that the philosopher Plato did not think of music as playing an important role. Quite the contrary, in almost every dialogue, notions on μουσική can be found, running through the whole Corpus Platonicum like Ariadne’s thread and playing a crucial role in almost every part of Plato’s philosophy, namely his aesthetics, ethics, natural philosophy, cosmology, epistemology, and political philosophy. But why should Plato’s thoughts on music still be of any significance for us, after almost two and a half millennia of world and music history?

        One possible reason in favour of a focus on Plato’s thoughts on music can be found without going back too far in time, namely in the musical milieu of the 20th century: In Erik Satie’s Socrate (Drame Symphonique) from 1918, Leonard Bernstein’s five-movement concerto Serenade after Plato’s Symposium from 1954, and in Luigi Nono’s string quartet, Fragmente – Stille, an Diotima from 1980 we have three different musical variations on Platonic philosophy. However, it was long before Bernstein that musicians and music theorists referred to Plato’s philosophy in order to develop and to support their aesthetic point of view. One of the most interesting examples for this can be found in the Italian Cinquecento, when music theorists such as Gioseffo Zarlino (1517–1590) and composers like Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) make recourse to Plato within their works. But why did they choose Plato as a reference point in the first place? In what way is the musical concept that we find in Renaissance music and music theory similar to Plato’s understanding of music, and how do they differ from it? This will be the crucial point of my dissertation.

        In my dissertation project, I will focus on two main aspects: (1) the role μουσική plays within Plato’s philosophy in toto; (2) the impact his notions on music had on Renaissance music and music theory.

What exactly is μουσική according to Plato, and in what way is music relevant, not only within his aesthetics, but also in his epistemology, cosmology, political philosophy and ethics? Unlike most of the research literature on this topic, my project takes account of the whole Corpus Platonicum, instead of focusing only on the loci classici, such as the Republic and the Laws. By doing this, I want to get a better grasp of what Plato really understood by μουσική.

        After this first section of my dissertation, the second half of it will focus on selected important figures of Renaissance music theory such as Marsilio Ficino, Johannes Kepler, Robert Fludd, Marin Mersenne, and Athanasius Kircher, all of them adapting Platonic thoughts to their understanding of music. Marsilio Ficino as the first translator of Plato’s complete works into Latin will be the first thinker to examine. The end of this second section will be marked by René Descartes who, with his Musicae Compendium, no longer inherits Neoplatonic thoughts and therefore stands for a change of paradigm.

        The overall aim of my dissertation project is to show that, even with so many centuries in between, Plato’s philosophy still had a huge impact, not only on theoretical spheres like music theory and philosophy, but also on practical ones such as musical practice.

Areas of Specialization

Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy; Aesthetics (historical and contemporary); Philosophy of Music; Renaissance Philosophy

Areas of Competence

Ethics; Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy; 19th and 20th Century Philosophy (Schopenhauer, Hegel, Nietzsche, Adorno)


11—12/2018 Visiting Scholar at the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University in the City of New York, USA; invited by Prof. Dr. Lydia Goehr; sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

09—12/2017 Visiting Scholar at the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University in the City of New York, USA; invited by Prof. Dr. Lydia Goehr; sponsored by the DFG

01—04/2017 Graduate Research Trainee at the Department of Philosophy at McGill University in Montréal (Québec), Canada; invited by Prof. Dr. Dr. Stephen Menn; sponsored by the DFG

since 10/2015 Ph.D. Candidate in Philosophy, Research Training Group "Philosophy, Science and the Sciences" at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, funded by the DFG (supervisors: Prof. Dr. Bernd Roling, Freie Universität Berlin; Prof. Dr. Lydia Goehr, Columbia University in the City of New York; Prof. Dr. Anne Eusterschulte, Freie Universität Berlin)

10/2015—12/2016 Research Assistant at the Schopenhauer Research Center, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

10/2014—07/2015 Teaching and Research Assistant at the Department of Philosophy, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

10/2014 Magistra Artium (M. A.) in Philosophy (major subject), Latin Philology and Musicology (minor subjects) at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz (final mark: 1,0 “with distinction”)

2011—2013 Collaborator in a research project on “Peter Cornelius as Music Theorist” at Bern University of the Arts (HKB), Switzerland; research topic: The Reception of Hegel’s Philosophy in Hauptmann’s Music Theory

10—12/2011 Internship at the arts section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (F.A.Z.)

02—03/2009 Internship at the Department of Music History of the Istituto Storico Germanico (DHI) in Rome

Publications & Conference Papers

For a full list of my publications and presentations, please click here.