Argumentative Strategy:
Concession and Rebuttal
 
Introduction
 
In argumentation, concession and rebuttal refers to the strategy of acknowledging a point made by the opposition before proving it wrong. Concession and rebuttal can be a powerful strategy in argumentation. By acknowledging opposing arguments, concession indicates an understanding of exactly what causes the controversy. It also demonstrates maturity in thinking by considering the issue from other angles. When used alone, concession can help establish a credible stance and a mature personality for the author. When followed by a rebuttal, concession works to discredit the opposing position by attacking the very point which the author concedes to the opposition. Concession and rebuttal can also serve as a defence against opposing arguments.
 
Look at the following example:
 
Controversy: Whether or not to ban smoking in public places
Writer’s Position: Smoking should be banned in public places.
Opposing Argument: An individual’s right to freedom of action should not be curtailed
Concession: An individual may have the right to action which does not interfere with the rights of other individuals.
Rebuttal: But nobody has the right to damage the health of other people and smoking in public does just that.
Proof: Medical evidence of the harm done by secondhand smoking.
 
Concession and Rebuttal
 
To use the concession and rebuttal strategy in argument, we have to pay attention to the following three elements:
 
- Structure of Concession-and-Rebuttal Arguments
- Discourse Markers
- Negation
 
Structure of Concession-and-Rebuttal Arguments
 
Basically, concession-and-rebuttal consists of three main parts:
 
- Concession
- Rebuttal
- Support /Elaboration of claim in the rebuttal
 
Concessions may have the following functions:

- to acknowledge the premise or evidence of opposing view points    before refuting it
- to show empathy for a hostile and resistant audience before putting    forward one’s conflicting argument
- to allow for differences or ambiguity of opinion and/or approach to an    issue

 
Rebuttal may have the following purposes:
 

- to put forward one’s opinion, evaluation or suggestion.
- to point out weaknesses in the conceded premise, evidence, or point    of  view
- to deny false implications or assumptions

 
Let’s take a look at the following examples:
 
Example 1:
 
Concession – Acknowledgement of common ground
Rebuttal – Drawback of common practice and indirect suggestion
Purpose—To remove misunderstanding
 
“A second take on copyright protection” - SCMP Editorial 2005-11-12
 
  Humankind has surely benefited greatly from much speedier transmission of knowledge in a digitised world. But let us not forget that the creation of knowledge as a commercial activity will suffer if intellectual labour is not properly rewarded. // Piracy and cost-free use of copyright materials deliver short-term gains to users. But if we fail to safeguard the rightful interests of authors, singers and film-makers, all will suffer as they become less resourceful in exploiting their creativity.

Concession & Rebuttal

Concession & Rebuttal as support for
C & R above

 
There are two concession-and-rebuttals in the above example. The first sentence in the first pair of concession-and-rebuttals is a concessionary statement. It acknowledges something that is commonly agreed. The contrastive marker “But” signals the beginning of a rebuttal. In the rebuttal, the claim (‘the creation of knowledge will suffer’) is supported by the second concession and rebuttal which spells out in detail the reasons for believing in the claim.
 
Concession and rebuttal is an effective strategy to use in argumentation because by attacking the concession, it addresses the likely objection and removes the doubt that resides in the mind of the skeptical.
 
Example 2:
 
Concession – Acknowledging the value of what is being evaluated
Rebuttal – Pointing out the problem with the object of evaluation
Purpose—To give a balanced viewpoint to justify suggestion
 
“Cooling-off period would foil TV cheats” - SCMP Editorial 2007-07-05
 
  Complaints of pressure-selling and misleading tactics have resulted in calls for the government to intervene to protect the consumer. It has promised to consider tighter regulation. That is good but it lacks a sense of urgency. There is a simple measure that would protect the consumer, which should be easy to put in place.

Concession & Rebuttal in the same sentence

 
The above example begins with supplying background information for an evaluation of the Government’s policy. It then goes on to point out there is something positive about the Government policy before criticizing it. The strategy here is to give the impression of a balanced viewpoint before launching an attack. The concessionary statement makes the critique appear more objective, thus lending more support for the upcoming recommendation.
 
Example 3:
 
Concession – Allowing for a possible outcome
Rebuttal – Negative evaluation, followed by suggestion
Purpose—To hedge criticism
 
“HK must not fail in English proficiency” - SCMP Editorial 2007-06-29
 
  It is too early to say whether these reforms will prove successful. But the fruits of the policies can perhaps be seen in the fact that the fall in this year's exam pass rate is negligible compared with last year. There is clearly a need to be vigilant and to ensure that the figures soon begin to rise.

 

 
The above example begins with a concessionary statement about the potential success of the education reforms. The ensuing rebuttal consists of a mild criticism of the reforms (‘the fall in this year’s exam pass rate is negligible’) put in a hedged manner (‘the fruit of the policies can perhaps be seen’). The concession and rebuttal sequence thus renders the criticism restrained and reasonable, making it possible to deliver a recommendation in an emphatic and certain tone (‘there is clearly a need’).
 
For further information about the use of hedging and emphatic statements in arguments, please go to the Section on the Use of Tone: What to Watch Out for in Using Emphatic/Hedging Language
 
Example 4:
 
Concession – Acknowledging common ground
Rebuttal – Correcting false implications of common beliefs
Purpose—To remove possible misunderstanding
 
“Shooting the messenger is politically unhealthy” - SCMP Editorial 2007-06-27
 
  It is true that issues may sometimes become polarised and debated heatedly. Certainly, there is a need for matters of public concern to be discussed rationally. But that does not mean that such concerns should not be expressed and investigated. After all, improper interference with academic freedom was found to have taken place. And the allegations raised by doctors are ones which deserve further inquiry.

 

 
The first concessionary marker ‘It is true that’ signals an emphatic acknowledgement of a possible situation. The writer concedes further in the second sentence marked by another emphatic concessionary marker Certainly By conceding emphatically, the writer seeks common ground with the intended audience about their beliefs before pointing out how such views can be misleading. Signaled by the contrastive marker But, the rebuttal negates the false implications of the previously mentioned common beliefs. The rebuttal is then supported with recent events as evidence.
 
Negation in Concession and Rebuttal
 
Very often rebuttal of a point previously conceded involves the use of negation.
In the following examples, the rebuttal is executed by negating the premises, evidence, or implications in the previously conceded argument.
 
Look at the following examples where the negation is highlighted for your attention:
 
Examples:
 
“Institute of Education deserves status boost” - SCMP Editorial 2005-11-19
 
  Although teacher education is also offered by some of the universities, education is not their major focus. // Hong Kong needs a university solely devoted to the cause of teacher training above all else, focusing on the practical needs of schools and the education system in general.

Concession & Rebuttal in same sentence

Putting forward main argument

 
“Reducing the wealth gap will help HK thrive” – SCMP Editorial 2007-06-19
 
  It is true that issues may sometimes become polarised and debated heatedly. Certainly, there is a need for matters of public concern to be discussed rationally. But that does not mean that such concerns should not be expressed and investigated. After all, improper interference with academic freedom was found to have taken place. And the allegations raised by doctors are ones which deserve further inquiry.

 

Putting forward main argument

 
“Reducing the wealth gap will help HK thrive” – SCMP Editorial 2007-06-19
 
  Inequality of wealth is not a new concept. The gap between the super-rich tycoons of today and the poorest employee is not as great as a century ago, given the benefits the government provides. But that does not make it acceptable. More must be done to close the gap. It is important that concerted efforts are made to create a more level playing field. Only through equality of opportunity can Hong Kong prosper and thrive in an increasingly competitive regional economic environment.

 

Putting forward main argument

 
For more information about the use of negation, please go to the Section on Argumentative Strategy: Negation
 
Further Support for a Rebuttal
 
In a concession-and-rebuttal sequence, the first sentence of the rebuttal usually consists of a claim which has to be supported. Concrete evidence and justifications have to be provided in order for the rebuttal to be really effective.
 
For supporting various ways of supporting a claim effectively, see Argumentative Strategies
 
Sometimes, a concession-and-rebuttal is part of an inductive development where the conclusion comes at the end of the chain of argument. If this is the case, the concession- and- rebuttal does not come to an end but acts as a bridge to the rest of the argument which has to be further elaborated before coming to a final conclusion.
 
For more information on inductive development, please go to the Section on Paragraph Development.
 
Example of Elaboration & Support after a Concession and Rebuttal:
 
SCMP Editorial 2007-07-07
 
“Rationing fashion was bound to stir passions”
 
  Boundless shopping, and enthusiasm for it, are part of the fabric of Hong Kong life. Nonetheless, life is meant to go on without being obstructed by it. That was not the case yesterday for nearby shops and their customers, not to mention the thousands of passers-by who were also inconvenienced. It did not help that the distributor refused to disclose the number of bags for sale on the first day, and that shoppers who registered with one of the two outlets to buy the bags found they still had to queue. // What was wrong with assuring them of supply provided they returned by an agreed time? That would have shortened the queue; if supplies ran out, people could have been advised. Out of respect for both customers and the general public, the event could have been organised with more forethought and consideration. // After all, even if any publicity is good publicity, the bag does not need it.

Concession

Rebuttal

Evaluation +Suggestion
iConclusion
 
The rebuttal, marked by ‘That was not the case’, is an implied negative evaluation of the issue being discussed. It is followed by supporting evidence showing the problems of the situation, and then suggestions of what could have been done to solve them. The reasoning chain thus follows a problem-solution pattern. The final conclusion is an evaluation of the entire event.
 
 
Discourse Markers for Concession-and-Rebuttals
 
Discourse markers act as signposts in an essay to signal different rhetorical relations. They help advance the development of ideas. In a concession-and-rebuttal sequence, we can usually find a concessional or contrastive marker, or both.
 
List of Concessional and Contrastive Markers ---
 
Concessional markers
 
although / in spite of / despite / even though / even if
regardless of / albeit
no matter / however (+adj.)
undoubtedly / no doubt / admittedly
indeed
 
it is true that…
it is understandable that
 
Contrastive markers
 
but / yet / still
however
nevertheless / nonetheless
unfortunately
even so
instead
rather
whereas
on the contrary (for further information on the use of on the contrary, please go to the Section of the Use of Connectives)
 
Examples of Use:
 
Look at the example we have seen earlier:
 
“Shooting the messenger is politically unhealthy” - SCMP Editorial 2007-06-27
 
  It is true that issues may sometimes become polarised and debated heatedly. Certainly, there is a need for matters of public concern to be discussed rationally. But that does not mean that such concerns should not be expressed and investigated. After all, improper interference with academic freedom was found to have taken place. And the allegations raised by doctors are ones which deserve further inquiry.

 

 

 
The first concessional marker “It is true that” signals an emphatic acknowledgement of the possibility of a situation. Then the writer concedes further in the second sentence which is marked by another concessional marker “Certainly”. By showing concession twice, the writer seeks a common ground with the intended audience, i.e. those who hold the conceded argument to be true. Next is the rebuttal marked by “But”. This is achieved through the negation of a false implication, at the same time, an idea that the readers may otherwise be unaware of.
 
Look at another example:
 
Mingpao Editorial (Translated by Mingpao staff) 2005-11-05
 
“Review of RTHK should be focused”
 
  It is understandable that RTHK is worried about political interference. Few Hong Kong people want RTHK to become a government mouthpiece. Few want it deprived of the freedom to supervise and criticise the government. We have repeatedly stressed in our editorials that modern public broadcasters are obligated to serve the people conscionably and rationally and they should not blindly speak up for those in power.

Concession

 
  We, however, feel compelled to point out that citizens expect RTHK not only to continue to supervise and criticise the government but also to quit the bad habit of squandering public money, operate more efficiently, improve its programmes, promote the arts and contribute to a knowledge-based society. All such issues are urgent as well as important.

Rebuttal

 
  Neither the government's review nor RTHK's consultations should be used to promote departmental or political interests. Such exercises must not be biased bureaucratic processes designed to lead to pre-planned conclusions. There should be rational, open debates in which the general public can participate. Only then can we leave political controversies behind and offer practical guidance on RTHK's future development.

Putting forward main argument

 
Exercises:
 
Question 1:
Read the following extract and identify the markers for concessions and rebuttals in the text:
 
Genetic Self-Understanding
 
The first reason for engaging in modern genetics is simply man's desire to know himself, a desire that nearly all of us share, if not in equal degrees. Alone among the animals, human beings possess the capacity and the drive to look upon ourselves as objects of inquiry. We study ourselves because we are not content simply being ourselves. We are not satisfied living immediately in nature like the other animals do. Food and sex alone do not satiate us. We do not accept the given world as it is; we also seek to uncover its meaning and structure. Modern biology, of course, is only one avenue of self-understanding, one way of asking questions. But it is an especially powerful and prominent way of seeking self-knowledge in the modern age. Instead of asking who we are by exploring how humans live, the biologist asks who we are by examining the mechanics of human life. Genetics fits perfectly within this vision: it seems to offer us a code for life; it promises to shed empirical light on our place in nature; it claims to tell us something reliable about our human design, our pre-human origins, and our post-human fate.
 
But it is also true that the more we learn about genetics, the more we seem to confront the limits as well as the significance of genetic explanation.
 
But in fact, the triumph of modern genetics has also meant the humbling of modern genetics. Big hypotheses now seem to require revision and greater measure. And in many ways, we are probably relieved that genetics does not tell us everything we need to know about ourselves. For human beings, this means that we are still more free than any genetic account of being human would leave us. And for young scientists, this means that life's mystery is still as great as ever; today's earnest graduate student can surpass even Watson and Crick in making the crucial breakthrough that might reveal our humanity once and for all -- that might give us "the secret of life," as Crick declared when he burst into the British pub in 1953.
 
But in fact, the triumph of modern genetics has also meant the humbling of modern genetics. Big hypotheses now seem to require revision and greater measure. And in many ways, we are probably relieved that genetics does not tell us everything we need to know about ourselves. For human beings, this means that we are still more free than any genetic account of being human would leave us. And for young scientists, this means that life's mystery is still as great as ever; today's earnest graduate student can surpass even Watson and Crick in making the crucial breakthrough that might reveal our humanity once and for all -- that might give us "the secret of life," as Crick declared when he burst into the British pub in 1953.
 
(Adapted from “The Real Meaning of Genetics” by Eric Cohen, 2005, The New Atlantis, No. 9Pg. 29-41, Ethics & Public Policy Cenre)
 
See highlighted markers in the text below:

Genetic Self-Understanding

The first reason for engaging in modern genetics is simply man's desire to know himself, a desire that nearly all of us share, if not in equal degrees. Alone among the animals, human beings possess the capacity and the drive to look upon ourselves as objects of inquiry. We study ourselves because we are not content simply being ourselves. We are not satisfied living immediately in nature like the other animals do. Food and sex alone do not satiate us. We do not accept the given world as it is; we also seek to uncover its meaning and structure. Modern biology, of course, is only one avenue of self-understanding, one way of asking questions. But it is an especially powerful and prominent way of seeking self-knowledge in the modern age. Instead of asking who we are by exploring how humans live, the biologist asks who we are by examining the mechanics of human life. Genetics fits perfectly within this vision: it seems to offer us a code for life; it promises to shed empirical light on our place in nature; it claims to tell us something reliable about our human design, our pre-human origins, and our post-human fate.

But it is also true that
the more we learn about genetics, the more we seem to confront the limits as well as the significance of genetic explanation.

But in fact, the triumph of modern genetics has also meant the humbling of modern genetics. Big hypotheses now seem to require revision and greater measure. And in many ways, we are probably relieved that genetics does not tell us everything we need to know about ourselves. For human beings, this means that we are still more free than any genetic account of being human would leave us. And for young scientists, this means that life's mystery is still as great as ever; today's earnest graduate student can surpass even Watson and Crick in making the crucial breakthrough that might reveal our humanity once and for all -- that might give us "the secret of life," as Crick declared when he burst into the British pub in 1953.

Even as we are relieved at discovering the limits of genetic determinism, however, our hunger for genetic explanation remains strong. Disease is also a threat to our freedom, after all, and we still hope that genetics might help us conquer that mortal threat. We still hope that genetics is the secret of disease, if not the secret of life.

(Adapted from “The Real Meaning of Genetics” by Eric Cohen, 2005, The New Atlantis, No. 9Pg. 29-41, Ethics & Public Policy Cenre)

Concession Markers:
Of course, But it is also true that, But in fact, Even as, if not the secret of life.

Rebuttal Markers
But, however

Pairing of Concession & Rebuttal Markers
Of course…But (Paragraph 1)
Even as…however (Paragraph 4)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Question 2
 
Based on the information provided below, write a concession and rebuttal sequence, making use of markers for concession and rebuttals as is appropriate:
 
(a)
Position:        Grades are not the most important thing in one’s academic career. Concession:   Without good grades, one cannot graduate or find a good job. Rebuttal:
Grades are not the most important goal in one’s academic career. It may be true that without reasonable grades, one cannot graduate and find a job, but those are only minimum requirements that almost every student can satisfy. An over-concern for grades would defeat the true purpose of a university education, which is to prepare one for lifelong learning, which is not measurable by grades.

Check for: Marker of Concession -->Concession-->Marker for Rebuttal-->Rebutta
l              -->Reason(s) for Rebuttal.
 
 
 
 
 
 
(b)
Position:        Society has to adapt to and deal with new situations brought about                    by new technology  
Concession:   Human cloning upsets the existing social system
It has often been suggested that cloned human beings are neither the offspring or the sibling of the parent and that this would create chaos in human society comparable to the invention of the Atomic Bomb. But clearly the analogy is a false one as it is difficult to imagine how cloning would lead to massive destructions of human lives. Such fears are unfounded as civilizations have always proved capable of adapting to new technologies and made the best use of them.

Check for: Marker of Concession-->Concession-->Marker for Rebuttal-->Rebuttal
              -->Reason(s) for Rebuttal.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
(c)
Position:       We should not release prison inmates before they serve their full                    sentences
Concession:   Prisons are overcrowded and they use up too much resources
It is true that prisons are getting extremely overcrowded and they are a major source of public expenditure. But to even suggest that prison terms should be cut short is to risk public safety, particularly because of the message sent out to the public.

Check for: Marker of Concession-->Concession-->Marker for Rebuttal-->Rebuttal
              -->Reason(s) for Rebuttal.
 
 
 
 
 
(d)
Position:       Strikes should be encouraged among workers demanding their rights.
Concession:   Strikes disrupt social harmony and lead to economic loss.
Strikes may disrupt social harmony and may even lead to economic losses for all concerned, but they are a legitimate way for workers to gain hearings from the management as well as the public. Left on their own, owners of businesses would not attend to the workers’ needs as if these needs were their own.

Check for: Marker of Concession-->Concession-->Marker for Rebuttal-->Rebuttal
              -->Reason(s) for Rebuttal.