significance of Poe's use of ratiocination

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What is the significance of Poe's use of Ratiocination and what does it do to contribute to his works.

-- Anonymous, November 17, 2000

John,

I believe I posted this earlier but I have made some changes to better accomodate your question. I hope you find it useful.

Generally speaking, the genre of fantasy most referred to as mystery is almost as old as fiction itself. While Edgar Allan Poe did not formulate this particular species of fiction, he was clearly the one that recognized its tired premise and inherent shortcomings as well as its potential. Poe's introduction of what he called ratiocination was the key element of originality that profoundly altered this genre and influenced subsequent mystery writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Most tales of the period that dealt with discernment or evidential discovery prior to Poe's influence read much like the usual analytical techniques accomplished through the application of inductive reasoning. This technique calls for a conclusion based on inferences suggested by particular general occurrences and can result in errors of judgement because of the inherent biases of human experience. It is a process of examination based on the observance of general principles. That is to say that conclusions of truth are based on observations of general truths. Effectively, if you observe X to be true, then you may conclude that X will always be true. Unfortunately, 'always' is an absolute and general observations are not. Therefore, at best, inductive reasoning leaves you with a probability of truth or merely a "theory".

On the other hand, deductive reasoning is the process of concluding that something must be true because it is a singular representation of a general principle that is known to be true. If you observe or know X to be true, then X should demonstrate to be true in all cases and can be tested. Unlike inductive analysis, deductive reasoning allows conclusions to be drawn through the elimination of probabilities to a provable certainty. That is to say that if it can be demonstrated, X can be brought to a logical certainty.

Writing from the perspective of inductive reasoning can place significant burdens on the author to maintain interest, impart surprise, instill anticipation and may make it difficult to sustain readership over time. It also tends to diminish the variations of premise because of the polarized approach to solution of an unknown. Poe recognized that a varied approach to a practical conclusion based on the more discriminating inferences of deductive reasoning and, especially, the application of intuitive analysis added to the anticipation and the thrill of analytical processes. Poe's fondness for mysteries was evident in his interest in cryptography as well as solving conundrums and puzzles. He once challenged the public and offered a prize if anyone sent him a puzzle he could not solve.

In Poe's mystery stories, he first determines a conclusion and then builds the events and circumstances to support that conclusion. In effect, he develops the answer before the question and then arranges questions that add to the thrill of solution. Add to this a character such as C. Auguste Dupin, a man of brilliance and amazing intuitive faculties and the story begins to write itself. Poe's use of a narrator provides distance and adds to the believability of Dupin's actions and his amazing attributes. We believe him to be brilliant because the narrator, Dupin's companion, tells us that he is brilliant and confirms this through detailed descriptions of his amazing talents.

Regards,

-- Anonymous, November 18, 2000