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Procatalepsis is a rhetorical strategy by which a speaker or writer anticipates and responds to an opponent's objections. Also spelled prokatalepsis.
The figure of speech and argumentative strategy of procatalepsis is also known as the prebuttal, the figure of presupposal, anticipatio, and anticipated refutation.
Nicholas Brownlees notes that procatalepsis "is an effective rhetorical device in that while appearing dialogic, in practice it allows the author to remain in complete control of the discourse" ("Gerrard Winstanley and Radical Political Discourse in Cromwellian England," 2006).
Examples and Observations
- "'Listen, Liz, I know this is tough to hear, but-'
"'I know what you're going to say,' she cut in, her voice quiet. 'I know what you're going to tell me to do. Accept it. Move on. Try to forget about what happened to him.'
"He didn't respond. She'd second-guessed him.
"'Well, it's not so easy for me,' she said. 'I'm still here in London with all the memories, living next door to his empty house. I haven't got myself a nice little holiday cottage in Devon to disappear to and forget about everything that happened.'"
(Tim Weaver, Never Coming Back. Viking, 2014)
Frederick Douglass' Use of Procatalepsis
- "I may be asked, why I am so anxious to bring this subject before the British public-why I do not confine my efforts to the United States? My answer is, first, that slavery is the common enemy of mankind, and all mankind should be made acquainted with its abominable character. My next answer is, that the slave is a man, and, as such, is entitled to your sympathy as a brother. All the feelings, all the susceptibilities, all the capacities, which you have, he has. He is a part of the human family." (Frederick Douglass, "An Appeal to the British People." Reception speech at Finsbury Chapel, Moorfields, England, May 12, 1846)
Plato's Use of Procatalepsis
- "Someone will say: 'Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you?' Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that the greatest good of man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living-that you are still less likely to believe. And yet what I say is true, although a thing of which it is hard for me to persuade you." (Plato, Apology, trans. by Benjamin Jowett)
Uses of Procatalepsis
- "Strategically, procatalepsis shows your readers that you have anticipated their concerns, and have already thought them through. It is, therefore, especially effective in argumentative essays…
"Procatalepsis can even be used if you don't have a full answer to the objection. By being honest about the fact that there are problems with your argument, you show your audience that you are grounded in reality. You should never, however, bring up an objection to which you cannot respond." (Brendan McGuigan, Rhetorical Devices: A Handbook and Activities for Student Writers. Prestwick, 2007)
- "Often, a writer will invent a possible objection or difficulty in order to answer it in a way that strengthens the writer's position. In the event such an objection should arise, the reader has an answer already laid out…
"An objection can occasionally be turned into a further point of support for the writer's argument. Conceding an objection and then turning it into a point in the writer's favor can be a powerful tactic." (Robert A Harris, Writing With Clarity and Style: A Guide to Rhetorical Devices for Contemporary Writers, 2003. Rpt. Routledge, 2017)
More Examples of Procatalepsis
- "'He knows every harbor, every cove and inlet throughout the chain; he has to.'
"'Those are fine credentials, Geoffrey, but hardly the sort-'
"'Please,' interrupted Cooke. 'I haven't finished. To anticipate your objection, he's a retired officer of US Naval Intelligence. He's relatively young, early to mid-forties, I'd say, and I've no real knowledge of why he left the service, but I gather the circumstances weren't very pleasant. Still, he could be an asset on this assignment.'" (Robert Ludlum, The Scorpio Illusion, 1993)
- "No group in America has had as poor a start as the first Africans. You'll argue that other groups had to suffer indignities and even slavery, but I immediately remind you that they migrated (i.e. came by choice). Africans were wrenched (even if purchased) from their homeland, brutalized and forced to work for free." (Nashieqa Washington, Why Do Black People Love Fried Chicken? And Other Questions You've Wondered But Didn't Dare Ask. Your Black Friend, 2006)