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Updated Apr 21, 2023

Understanding the Power of Apagoresis: A Rhetorical Device That Captivates

Have you ever found yourself captivated by a speech or piece of writing, not only because of its content but also due to the way it was presented? It is likely that the speaker or writer utilized various rhetorical devices to engage the audience and convey their message effectively. One such powerful device is apagoresis. In this article, we will explore the concept of apagoresis, understand its significance, and examine some notable examples.

Introduction to Apagoresis

Apagoresis, derived from the Greek word "apagorein" meaning to forbid, is a rhetorical technique used to strengthen an argument by explicitly rejecting opposing viewpoints or counterarguments. It helps create a sense of authority and conviction, leaving little room for doubt in the minds of the audience.

By addressing and dismissing opposing arguments upfront, apagoresis enables the speaker or writer to establish their position as the dominant and most reasonable one. This rhetorical device not only showcases the speaker's expertise but also aims to persuade the audience by eliminating potential counterarguments.

The Function of Apagoresis

Apagoresis serves several essential functions within a speech or piece of writing. Let's take a closer look at how this rhetorical device operates:

1. Strengthening the Argument

By explicitly rejecting opposing arguments, apagoresis strengthens the main argument of the speaker or writer. It acts as a preemptive strike against counterarguments, providing a solid foundation for their own viewpoint.

2. Demonstrating Expertise and Confidence

When a speaker or writer effectively employs apagoresis, it showcases their deep understanding of the subject matter. By preemptively addressing potential objections, they demonstrate confidence and expertise, enhancing their credibility in the eyes of the audience.

3. Engaging the Audience

Apagoresis can be an engaging rhetorical device, capturing the attention of the audience by acknowledging alternative viewpoints and then effectively refuting them. This creates a dynamic and thought-provoking atmosphere, encouraging audience engagement and active participation.

Notable Examples of Apagoresis

To truly comprehend the power of apagoresis, let's explore some notable examples from renowned speeches and literary works:

Example 1: Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

In his iconic Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln addresses the opposing argument that the soldiers who fought in the Civil War should not be honored. He explicitly refutes this notion, stating, "But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate...we cannot consecrate...we cannot hallow this ground." By dismissing the opposing argument, Lincoln emphasizes the importance of honoring the fallen soldiers.

Example 2: Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" Speech

Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech also employs apagoresis to strengthen his argument for civil rights. He rejects the argument that African Americans should patiently wait for equality, stating, "We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now." By dismissing the idea of waiting, he emphasizes the immediate need for change.

Example 3: William Shakespeare's Macbeth

Even in literary works, apagoresis finds a prominent place. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Lady Macbeth uses apagoresis to manipulate her husband into committing murder. She dismisses his doubts by saying, "What beast was't, then, that made you break this enterprise to me?" By rejecting Macbeth's hesitation, she compels him to follow through with their plan.

In Conclusion

Apagoresis is a powerful rhetorical device that enhances the impact of a speech or piece of writing. By explicitly rejecting opposing arguments, it strengthens the main argument, demonstrates expertise, and engages the audience. Examples such as Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and Shakespeare's Macbeth highlight the effectiveness of this device in various contexts.

Next time you find yourself captivated by a persuasive speech or piece of writing, keep an eye out for the clever application of apagoresis. It is a tool employed by skilled communicators to leave a lasting impression, making their arguments more compelling and convincing.


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