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Edgar Allan Poe – There is no value in the fact of a fact.

November 27, 2014

[An excerpt from a letter from the future…]

“The fame of this great man [Aristotle] depended mainly on his demonstration that sneezing is a natural provision, by means of which over-profound thinkers are enabled to expel superfluous ideas through the nose; but he obtained a scarcely less valuable celebrity as the founder, or at all events as the principal propagator, of what was termed the deductive or a priori philosophy. He started with what he maintained to be axioms, or self-evident truths: – and the now well understood fact that no truths are self-evident, really does not make in the slightest degree against his speculations: – it was sufficient for his purpose that the truths in question were evident at all. From axioms he proceeded, logically, to results. …

For many centuries, so great was the infatuation, about Hog [Francis Bacon] especially, that a virtual stop was put to all thinking, properly so called. No man dared utter a truth for which he felt himself indebted to his soul alone. It mattered not whether the truth was even demonstrably such; for the dogmatizing philosophers of that epoch regarded only the road by which it professed to have been attained. The end, with them, was a point of no moment, whatever: – ‘the means!’ they vociferated – ‘let us look at the means!’ – and if, on scrutiny of the means, it was found to come neither under the category Hog [Bacon], nor under the category Aries [Aristotle] (which means ram), why then the savans went no further, but, calling the thinker ‘a fool’ and branding him a ‘theorist,’ would never, thenceforward, have any thing to do either with him or with his truths. …

The vital taint, however, in Baconianism – its most lamentable fount of error – lay in its tendency to throw power and consideration into the hands of merely perceptive men – of those inter-Tritonic minnows, the microscopical savans – the diggers and peddlers of minute facts, for the most part in physical science – facts all of which they retailed at the same price on the highway; their value depending, it was supposed, simply upon the fact of their fact, without reference to their applicability or inapplicability in the development of those ultimate and only legitimate facts, called Law.”

(from Eureka [1848])


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