Monday, July 5, 2010

Kettle Logic

In the muddled thinking of inconsistent excuses, Freud's example of the borrowed kettle provides a perfect example. Hence the name "kettle logic".

  1. I never borrowed a kettle from you
  2. And anyway I returned it to you unbroken
  3. And anyway the kettle was already broken when I got it from you.

This kind of logic is one of the characteristic features of defensive denial, which I identify as one of the symptoms of organizational stupidity. I should welcome some more specific examples of this kind of argument, especially in a business organization setting.

Update (October 2018). In his writings on the current American president, Jeet Heer reminds us that the phrase was developed by Jacques Derrida, riffing on Freud’s original idea.


Here is Fake Steve Jobs defending the iPhone: "I want to go on record saying this: There is no “antenna problem” on the iPhone 4, and we’re not going to fix anything, because nothing needs to be fixed".(And although FSJ must of course be regarded as satire and not a fair account of Apple's true position on design flaws, the reason this kind of satire touches a raw nerve is that a corporate self-image (identity) based around design perfection can easily result in this kind of denial - "it couldn't happen to us" and "because we are so brilliant, critics will always latch onto the most trivial issue" and "of course we aren't perfect (yes we are)". See Apple Is "Not Perfect," Says Steve Jobs, New York Times via Slate, 16 July 2010. It would be interesting to explore in more detail the links between denial and identity. )

In a recent case of public lewdness and adultery, the accused woman denied she and her lover were having sex, and said anyway they had chosen a picnic table out of the view of others in the park [Daily Mail 9 June 2010].

In politics, Slavoj Žižek uses this schema to understand WMD in Iraq as well as Islamic holocaust denial (via Alain), while Phil Edwards writes about Tony Blair and our relation to his unconscious.

Debaters often accuse their opponents of using kettle logic. For example, in evangelist debating circles, Robert Price attacks Josh McDowell while Jon attacks William Lane Craig. See also Pagan Origins of the Christian Myth.

Jeet Heer, Trump’s Lies Destroy Logic As Well As Truth (New Republic, 28 November 2016), How Freud’s kettle logic explains Trump’s incoherent story on Michael Flynn (New Republic, 2017), In his response to tape allegations, Trump remains the master of kettle logic (New Republic, 2018)

Wikipedia: Kettle Logic

Related posts: Intelligence Failures at Barclays Bank (Aug 2012), Defensive Denial (June 2014)

Updated 20 October 2018

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