Kettle logic (la logique du chaudron in the original French) is a rhetorical device wherein one uses multiple arguments to defend a point, but the arguments are inconsistent with each other.
Jacques Derrida uses this expression in reference to the humorous "kettle-story", that Sigmund Freud relates in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905).
Philosophy and psychoanalysis
The name "logique du chaudron" derives in Jacques Derrida from an example used by Sigmund Freud for the analysis of "Irma's dream" 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
Though the three arguments are inconsistent, Freud notes that it is so much the better, as if even one is found to be true then the man must be acquitted.
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. 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.
- Jacques Derrida, Resistances of Psychoanalysis, trans. Peggy Kamuf, Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1998).
- 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"[permanent dead link] 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
- Kettle Logic, Freud on Defensive Arguments: https://web.archive.org/web/20101206112449/http://www.harris-greenwell.com/HGS/FreudsKettleLogic