like a lot of folks, i have always been fascinated by edgar allan poe. i kept returning to his criticism, though it's a mixed bag. but he forms a good withering realist (!) foil for some of the woolly happy excesses of the transcedentalists. he thought the fads for spiritualism, water cures, and the sprawling 19th c. new age universe was amusing horseshit, notwithstanding his association with 'the uncanny'. i want him to be a devastating precursor of my three stooges of the apocalypse: twain, bierce, and mencken. all of those guys had poe on board, though i'm sure they had their reservations. what i always wanted to find in poe, and always half-assedly missed - was some sort of statement of how he saw his own intellectual orientation, what he was trying to do or show. i wanted something philosophical, in short. somehow until i read the marilynne robinson piece below, i missed eureka, possibly because of its subtitle: "a prose poem". ok ok i tend to steer clear of poetry, especially poetry of the 19th century.
honestly, the thing is a fairly straightforward philosophical essay, and i think the 'prose poem' thing is ironic. it's playful and triply ironic and such; i might compare its tone (and also a number of its positions) provisionally to kierkegaard's, emerging at the same moment (though i am not putting it on a par with sk). for philosophy, it's pretty literary. also its withering and almost self-ridiculing tone very much reminds me of bierce. he's aware of his own pretentiousness as he writes; he's sorry that he's doing philosophy, but here it is. there are many jokes.
but it is dedicated to von humboldt. he contrasts the positions of aristotle, bacon, hume, kant, bentham, and mill, for example. he quotes them. it is a defense of imagination, intuition, and improvisation in all the paths of human inquiry, including the sciences, and it is a reasoned defense by a cosmopolitan intellectual who read everything. i am still grappling with the overall positions and structure of the argument, and i'll have more to say about these after i've read the whole twice.
but what i want to say at the moment about poe, robinson, and epistemology is this: we do wrong (i did wrong below) to contrast science and (say) aesthetic or poetic or intuitive paths toward the truth. look poe was a literary person and he struggled toward these ideas out of that sort of material. einstein was a mathematician, or whatever it may be, and he moved toward a (somewhat similar) set of ideas from that direction. but poe's technique actually has rigorous applications of reason all over it, while einstein - this is a commonplace - is engaged in acts of imagination, intuition: an aesthetic of beauty. these things are integrated on the ground at the most fertile moments. like a lot of people for a couple of hundred years, poe's quite working on lucretian-newtonian lines. and i think lucretius lurks in the background not only as having the right sort of universe, but as doing poetic science. and if we viewed einstein as emerging in that same history, we'd have a point.
one reason to delete the justification condition on knowledge is that it's always trying to foreclose on the paths to truth a priori. i don't think we can tell now what all the paths may be, and i don't think we're sufficiently appreciative of the many different ways that people have found the truth, or the fact that these are always working in combination.
in general, we need to destroy this obsessive contrast between reason and its others, which gets stamped in everything from star trek to brain science (where your executive regions are contrasted to your amygdala or whatever). this really is a theme of poe's fiction and poetry. we'll be doing a lot better science and a lot better prose poetry once we throw these distinctions into chaos.
the figure of poe is a symbol of the reason-beast dualism: he has become a mere study in pathology, an interesting addict, as also an arch-romantic, an american baudelaire. it's all supposed to be darkside, a spiralling tumble into hallcination. but it takes about a second with poe's criticism to realize that's wrong, and as robinson points out, the stories often resolve morally or are emblems of a moral crisis and emblems of its resolution. or really, it's an oscillation in poe that at its best shows a resolution if not a harmony.