Definition of Procatalepsis

Procatalepsis is a figure of speech which is also known as prebuttal or prolepsis in which the speaker or writer gives response to the objection of an opponent in his speech by repeating his objection.

It could also be that he responds to his own objection in order to strengthen his argument by using counterarguments. Once the speakers bring attention to a possible rebuttal, they immediately refute or discredit it, for the fear that people may get confused.

Examples of Procatalepsis in Literature

Example #1

“I know what you’re going to say…’That if they look at it properly they’ll see that it wasn’t our fault. But will they look at it properly? Of course they won’t. You know what cats they are…”

(The Captives by Hugh Walpole)

This example is a perfect description of procatalepsis. First, the speaker says that if they would look at the matter carefully, they would realize and know the truth. Then he quickly objects to his own argument and asks a question instead.

Example #2

“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… 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.”

(Apology by Plato)

In this example, the speaker is persuading the listeners. He knows that the other person would not believe him, and that he is unable to convince him despite the fact that he is telling the truth. Thus, the speaker is objecting to his own argument to strengthen it.

Example #3

“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.'”

(The Scorpio Illusion by Robert Ludlum)

In this excerpt, the speaker uses procatalepsis by describing the efforts and expertise of the US naval officer. First, he raises a question why he has left his job, then immediately objects to his own argument, responding that due to unpleasant circumstances, he had left the job.

Example #4

I can think of no one objection that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. This I freely own, and it was indeed the principal design in offering it to the world.

(A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift)

Here, Swift brings an argument that no one would object against his proposal, then gives a quick argument that objection would be raised as he has stated.

Example #5

Accept (me), one who knows [how] to love you with spotless faith.
Nor is my field renewed by countless plows,
Act on my side, and Love, who gives me to you
And loyalty [which] will yield to no-one, morals without fault…
and that I die with you grieving (for me).
Offer yourself to me as worthy material for poems

(“Amores I.3″ by Ovid)

In this poem, Ovid is using procatalepsis to persuade Corinna that he loves her more than anyone and though he is not rich and does not have too much money, social status or possessions, however he knows that his poetry could make her beloved immortal.

Function of Procatalepsis

This rhetorical device allows a writer to remain in control of a discourse by using counterargument. It is also helpful to writers or speakers, if they do not have a complete answer to an objection, which they attain by remaining honest about reality that their arguments have problems. This is how they show their audience that they are grounded in the reality. Since it is a very effective tactic in arguments, its benefits are twofold: the speaker replies successfully to the objection of the audience or opposing arguments, and also builds trust with his audience. Its usage is common in literary writings, advertisements, specifically in the political arena, where it serves as a playground.

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