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Sculpting Sententiae -- An Art Form of Independent Philosophy

The introductory pages and first few sententiae from this unpublished manuscript are printed below (© 2009 Richard Schain):



Sententiae – sentences expressing a way of thinking, opinion, thought, meaning, purpose.

-Cassell’s Latin Dictionary

It has been long known that the tastes of readers are at least as important for the success of a writing as are the literary skills of the writer. From Aeschylus to Beckett, “successful” writers have had to have the wit and patience to find a public appreciative of their work. The form of writing utilized here is one that requires a special consciousness of self and freedom of spirit on the part of the reader. Unlike extended prose, sententiae do not entertain or support one upon an ongoing current of language. They should be conceived of as a form of philosophical artwork in which the philosopher reveals his mind in brief passages. Sententiae are not discursive, but are oracular expressions derived from the interior life of the writer. The antique Σπουδαιολογος (serious thought) is its essential feature. Every literary person looks more or less for le mot juste in his writings but in the case of sententiae, this requirement is critical. If the ultimate purpose of art is the awakening of consciousness, the significance of a sententia is to be found in its ability to produce this awakening – not only for the reader but for the writer as well.

  Heraclitus, the greatest writer of sententiae in the antique world, declared that the purveyor of wisdom does not explicate or conceal but gives a sign. He was regarded as a philosophical force second to none throughout a thousand years of classical culture; subsequently, his impact was lost on a public given over to the cult of Christianity. We now live in a society that looks to literature for diversion or instruction, but rarely for awakening. Those with a taste for the classics turn to the literary honey of Plato rather than the tough meat of Heraclitus. Yet it is as true now as in antique times that honeyed words have a limited effect on the spirit of a reader. Transport into the endless Disneylands of extended discourse is commonly a way of escape from self rather than its awakening. The humorous comment of Callimachus of Alexandria, a literary giant of his times (@ 250 B.C.), was “μεγα βιβλιον, μεγα κακον” – much writing, much evil.

  The title of this writing, Sculpting Sententiae, is a metaphor chosen because there is a strong resemblance to sculpture in creating philosophical passages. One must carve them out of a morass of distracting language. The writer chips away gradually at the resistant material; he deletes, adds, alters and arranges. The often deceptively simple end product of artwork is difficult to attain, as any artist knows. The goal of writing sententiae is not to cover pages with verbose explications but to construct brief sentences conveying thoughts that demand expression. A century ago, Hermann Diels in his landmark translation of Heraclitus from Greek to German (“Herakleitos von Ephesos,” 1901) expressed the view that this format was the only one suitable for the philosophical depths of his subject.

  As in many other forms of art, the kernel of a sententia is in intuitive expression. Here the intellect does not analyze; it apprehends, it sees. One is far removed from the writings of scholars. Coming upon a meaningful statement can be a significant event in one’s life that puts at risk the ordinary affairs of the individual. It is not a trivial thing to loosen mental straightjackets. A person whose mind is not attuned to this approach to philosophy - which is further defined in #22 – need read no further. Although this writing consists of 381 individual sententiae, I believe there is a coherent worldview that will be found to resonate throughout the work. May there be readers in whose minds it resonates as well.

  Virtually all of the sententiae in this work are original. Many have been culled with alterations from my collections entitled Philosophical Artwork, A Contemporary Logos, and Sentences in Small Spaces. In spite of the axiom traduttore, traditore, I plead guilty to providing an appendix with translations of foreign language phrases when the translations are not present in the text. All translations are mine.

  This work would not have seen the light of day without the computer skills of my wife Melanie Dreisbach. But far more than that, her bright spirit has always been an unfailing source of inspiration to my often wavering creative energies.

Philosophy and Religion

Die Wahrheit zu sagen ist Pflicht, nicht, viele Rede zu machen.

Democritus of Abdera – Diels’ Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker



Philosophy - The transmutation of vital experience into concepts is a special form of creative expression. The ancient Greeks called it ϕιλοσοϕια.  


Ibid - Philosophy is not a matter of discovering facts or falsehoods but of forthrightly expressing one’s sense of the nature of human existence and of the cosmos of which it is a part.  


Sentience - In life forms, the energy of the universe is harnessed so as to further the propagation of the organism. Sentient creatures, however, find that their life drive has been mysteriously altered so that elevating their consciousness becomes the principal focus of their existence.  


Ο λογος - We cannot form an image in our minds of the controlling arrangement of the cosmos. Yet we know it is there mocking our illusion of private power.  


Philosophers - The bourgeois want money and the Christians preach love but we philosophers seek only knowledge of the hidden forces of our existence.  


Ibid - Sadly, the transformation of philosophy into an academic subject by tight-knit guilds of university scholars has led to its evisceration and irrelevance to life of the individual. The self-contradictory concept of a science of philosophy illustrates the confusion of terms so often found in human affairs.  


Soul - It takes very little investigation to discover that an interior self or “soul” is the distinguishing mark of a human being. This may be just one of various perspectives on the nature of Homo sapiens but it is by far the most important and interesting one.  


Ibid – St. Augustine once wrote that there are only two questions worthy of serious consideration; God and the soul. However, this list can be reduced to one: the soul. The notion of God is extraneous.  


In the beginning was the word - Εν αρχη ην ο λογοs (John 1:1) This was the evangelist’s way of conceding that the Heraclitean logos or “word” is the key to the primal energy underlying all things. Apart from some of the sayings of Jesus, this is the only line in the New Testament that I find worthy of serious thought.  


Burning question - “What is a soul?” is a question better not asked of children, illiterates or scientists. Perhaps just the title of a little-known book, “Souls Exist” says what is important to say on the subject.  


The one thing needful – Living requires food, shelter, physical activity, human interactions. Without these things, life is not sustainable. But to live well, for the soul to thrive, one must have philosophy.  


Limited consciousness - It is helpful to remember that the word “mysticism” is a term often utilized by those who have a limited consciousness of reality.  


An intellectual conscience – Critical thinking purifies the soul. Perhaps the most heinous of human sins of any age, new or old, is the abandonment of an intellectual conscience.  


The brain - Important lesson in neurophysiology: the brain stands to the soul as did Chopin’s piano to Chopin.  


A unitary soul - I cannot understand why there is such objection by dogmatic materialists to the concept of a unitary soul. Feelings, volitions and thoughts of an individual undeniably exist in an interlocking manner. After all, the concept of a unitary brain is much more tenuous. There are only motley multitudes of cells and fibers running every which way, with questionable connections to the mind.  


Nature lovers - Lovers of nature appear to easily forget that the human mind is far and away its highest product.  


Developing the soul - It is astonishing how the distinction is still not made between developing the soul and acquiring knowledge. One would quickly be confined to a mental institution if he exhibited signs of starvation while hoarding great quantities of inedible foodstuffs.  


Consciousness - Those who do not recognize a human consciousness attuned to the concealed elements of the universe are better left to their blind dependence upon animal spirits or religious dogmas.


Passion - Not intellect but passion is the engine of the soul. To suppress passion is to paralyze it as was recognized by William Blake. (Still, I wish that Blake had read Heraclitus day and night instead of his Bible.)  


Planes of reality - Activity of the soul occurs on a spiritual plane, not a psychological one. From the spiritual point of view, the brilliant psychologist Freud was remarkable for his obtuseness.  


An important distinction - The distinction between science and philosophy could not be more obvious. Science analyzes, organizes and utilizes the phenomena of nature whereas philosophy miraculously creates new ones.  


Philosophy and Science - Philosophical literary artwork is assertive, metaphorical and often veiled. The reader is confronted with the intensely personal product of the philosopher’s mind creating concepts. Scientific expression is exactly the opposite in style; it is objective, explicit and impersonal. For the philosopher, such a style has no value whatever and produces disgust when paraded out as philosophy.  


Branches of science - Philosophies that do not attend to the problem of human existence on the level of a higher consciousness are usually branches of science that have been misnamed.  


Spiritual self - When the tension between ontological polar opposites slackens, all things fall apart. Thus the downfall of a human being whose exterior material powers are not balanced by an interior spiritual self.