Kettle logic (la logique du chaudron in the original French) is a type of informal fallacy wherein one uses multiple arguments to defend a point, but the arguments themselves are inconsistent.
The name derives from an example used by Sigmund Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams and in his Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Freud relates the story of a man who was accused by his neighbour of having returned a kettle in a damaged condition and the three arguments he offers.
- That he had returned the kettle undamaged;
- That it was already damaged when he borrowed it;
- That he had never borrowed it in the first place.
The three arguments are inconsistent, and Freud notes that it would have been better if he had only used one.
The kettle logic of the dream-work is related to what Freud calls the embarrassment-dream of being naked, in which contradictory opposites are yoked together in the dream. Freud said that in a dream, incompatible (contradictory) ideas are simultaneously admitted. Freud also presented various examples of how a symbol in a dream can bear in itself contradictory sexual meanings.
To expand on the kettle logic of dreams, one should understand the relationship between kettle logic itself and the nature of contradiction. Kettle logic, although a tool that may be simply noticed, is meant to present itself as truth. In other words, kettle logic is a way of combining contradictions to make a case. These contradictory arguments are put together next to each other; they are presented as if the contradictions themselves do not exist. This relates to one of Freud's views on dreams, where he states, "Thoughts contradicting each other do not aim to cancel each other out, but persist side by side, often combining as if there were no contradiction into products of condensation." An example of this is the aforementioned dream of being naked. This is one aspect of the "exorbitant" logic of dreaming, where the logic itself lies closely to illogical thought.
Kettle logic has found its way into mainstream thought, and can be used as a claim as to why an argument, topic, or reasoning behind an action is illogical. One example of kettle logic is found in popular philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek's book, Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle. He uses Freud's original kettle anecdote to make a case that the argument (or arguments) that were used to justify starting the War in Iraq were contradictory. He outlines three arguments used by the United States government:
- Weapons of mass destruction possessed by Iraq and Saddam Hussein were an imminent threat to Western nations.
- Even if no weapons of mass destruction were found, Saddam Hussein still played an integral role with al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.
- Regardless of no evidence towards a link with al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein ran a human-rights violating, violent dictatorship.
Žižek points out the inconsistencies in these arguments and claims they were used to persuade Americans that going to war was the necessary thing. Like the kettle, one argument was put side by side with another to try and strengthen the idea of the main point. With the kettle, it was to convince the neighbor that the kettle was returned undamaged. In this case, it was to convince the public that war was necessary.
- The Interpretation of Dreams, in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, (trans. A. A. Brill), 4:119-20
- Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Standard Edition 13:62 and 206
- Mills, Jon (2004) Rereading Freud: psychoanalysis through philosophy p.14
The peculiarities of the logic of the dream-work can be seen taking place almost from the beginning of The Interpretation of Dreams. [...] This "kettle logic," as Derrida calls it,11 exemplifies the logic of the dream-work. It is likewise with that found in what Freud calls the embarrassment-dream of being naked. [...] Here, then, there is a logic that yokes contradictory opposites together in the dream.
- Kabbalah and postmodernism: a dialogue By Sanford L. Drob p.139 and notes at p.292
- Elliot R. Wolfson (2007) Oneiric Imagination and Mystical Annihilation in Habad Hasidism in ARC, The Journal of the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University 35 (2007): 131-157.
- Sigmund Freud The Interpretation of Dreams, translated by A. A. Brill, pp.366-373 quotation:
Contradictory thoughts [widersprechende Gedanken] do not try to eliminate one another, but continue side by side, and often combine to form condensation-products, as though no contradiction existed. [...] The suppressed psychic material, which in the waking state has been prevented from expression and cut off from internal perception by the mutual neutralization of contradictory attitudes [durch die gegensätzliche Erledigung der Widersprüche], finds ways and means, under the sway of compromise-formations, of obtruding itself on consciousness during the night.
Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo. *(2)
At any rate, the interpretation of dreams is the via regia to a knowledge of the unconscious element in out psychic life.
[...] *(2) If I cannot influence the gods, I will stir up Acheron.
- Jane Marie Todd - 1990 Autobiographics in Freud and Derrida p.109 quotation:
For the flower is one of the examples that Freud chooses to demonstrate the contradictory (sexual) meanings that a single dream symbol can bear. In fact, this example from The Interpretation of Dreams plays a prominent role in Derrida's article on metaphor, "La Mythologie Blanche" (1971).
- Sigmund Freud The Interpretation of Dreams, translated by A. A. Brill, pp.366
- Žižek, Slavoj Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle p.1-3
- Kettle Logic, Freud on Defensive Arguments: http://www.harris-greenwell.com/HGS/FreudsKettleLogic