Concession Used in Rhetoric

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

concession in arguments
The Good Argument by Honore Daumier (1808-1879). (Barney Burstein/Getty Images)

Concession is an argumentative strategy by which a speaker or writer acknowledges (or appears to acknowledge) the validity of an opponent's point. Verb: concede. Also known as concessio.

The rhetorical power of concession, says Edward P.J. Corbett, resides in an ethical appeal: "The audience gets the impression that the person capable of making frank confessions and generous concessions are not only a good person but a person so confident of the strength of his or her position that he or she can afford to concede points to the opposition" (Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, 1999).

Concessions may be either serious or ironic.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Etymology
From the Latin, "to yield"

Examples and Observations

  • "Politics makes an excellent test of concession, in part because the tactic is so refreshing. See if you can go through an entire discussion without overtly disagreeing with your opponent.
    She: I'm willing to give up a little privacy so the government can keep me safe.
    You: Safety's important.
    She: Not that they're going to tap my phone.
    You: No, you'd never rock the boat.
    She: Of course, I'll speak up if I disagree with what's going on.
    You: I know you will. And  let the government keep a file on you. 
    You may see a little smoke come out of your friend's ears at this point. Do not be alarmed; it's simply a natural sign of mental gears being thrown in reverse. The Greeks loved concession for this very reason: it lets opponents talk their way right into your corner."
    (Jay Heinrichs, Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion, rev. ed. Three Rivers Press, 2013)
  • "It has been said that Rowcliff is handsome, and I'll concede that his six feet of meat is distributed well enough, but his face reminds me of a camel with a built-in sneer."
    (Rex Stout, Please Pass the Guilt, 1973)
  • Mark Twain on the American Flag and the Philippine-American War
    "I am not finding fault with this use of our flag; for in order not to seem eccentric I have swung around, now, and joined the nation in the conviction that nothing can sully a flag. I was not properly reared, and had the illusion that a flag was a thing which must be sacredly guarded against shameful uses and unclean contacts, lest it suffer pollution; and so when it was sent out to the Philippines to float over a wanton war and a robbing expedition I supposed it was polluted, and in an ignorant moment I said so. But I stand corrected. I concede and acknowledge that it was only the government that sent it on such an errand that was polluted. Let us compromise on that. I am glad to have it that way. For our flag could not well stand pollution, never having been used to it, but it is different with the administration."
    (Mark Twain, 1902; quoted by Albert Bigelow Paine in Mark Twain: A Biography, 1912
  • Orwell's Qualified Concession
    "I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words or constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail."
    (George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946)
  • Concession in Classical Rhetoric
    - "In traditional rhetorical manuals there are a number of devices that could be subsumed under the concept of concession: Quintilian's praesumptio or prolepsis, defined as anticipating by 'confessing something we can afford to concede'; and Cicero's praemunitio, or defending 'by anticipating objections to some point we intend to make later."
    (Alison Weber, Teresa of Avila and the Rhetoric of Femininity. Princeton University Press, 1990)
    - "Quintilian discusses concession, confession, and agreement as allied figures 'which have a strong family resemblance.' All three are used to concede points that 'can do our case no harm.' The act of concession implies a strong, confident position' (Institutiones Oratoriae. IX.ii.51-52)."
    (Charles A. Beaumont, "Swift's Rhetoric in 'A Modest Proposal.'" Landmark Essays on Rhetoric and Literature, ed. by Craig Kallendorf. Erlbaum, 1999) 
    - "An example of a serious concession is in Cicero's Pro Roscio Amerino--'Very well; you cannot bring forward any motive. Although it ought to be considered at once that I have won my case, I will not insist upon my right, and will make a concession to you in this case, which I would not make in any other, so convinced am I of my client's innocence. I do not ask you to say why Sextus Roscius killed his father, I ask you how he killed him."
    (Giambattista Vico, The Art of Rhetoric: (Institutiones Oratoriae), edited and translated by Giorgio A. Pinton and Arthur W. Shippee. Rodopi, 1996) 

    Pronunciation: kon-SESH-un