Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Nickolas Pappas

Committee Members

Barbara Gail Montero

Steven Ross

Noël Carroll

Subject Categories



In "The Metaphysics of Improvisation," I criticize wrongheaded metaphysical views of, and theories about, improvisation, and put forward a cogent metaphysical theory of improvisation, which includes action theory, an analysis of the relevant genetic and aesthetic properties, and ontology (work-hood).

The dissertation has two Parts. Part I is a survey of the history of many improvisational practices, and of the concept of improvisation. Here I delineate, sketch, and sort out the often vague boundaries between improvising and non-improvising within many art forms and genres, including music, dance, theatre, motion pictures, painting, and literature. In addition, I discuss the concept of non-artistic improvisation in various contexts. I attempt to portray an accurate picture of how improvisation functions, or does not function, in various art forms and genres.

Part II addresses metaphysical issues in, and problems and questions of, improvisation in the arts. I argue that that continuum and genus-species models are the most cogent ways to understand the action-types of improvising and composing and their relations. I demonstrate that these models are substantiated by an informed investigation and phenomenology of improvisational practice, action theory conceptual analysis, cognitive neuroscience studies and experiments, cognitive psychology studies and models, and some theories of creativity. In addition, I provide a constraint based taxonomy for classifying improvisations that is compatible with, and supports, the continuum model. Next, I address epistemological and ontological issues involving the genetic properties of improvisations, and the properties "improvisatory," and "as if improvised." Finally, I show that arguments against treating, or classifying, improvisations as works are weak or erroneous, and by focusing on music, I provide a correct ontological theory of work-hood for artistic improvisations.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.

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