This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link.
Origin: From the Greek ἄπορος (aporos), meaning “impassable”.
In plain English: An expression of uncertainty or doubt.
- When the doubt or uncertainty is genuine, it can signal a real dilemma and prompts the audience to think about different options for resolution.
- When the doubt is sincere, it can show the humility of the speaker.
- When the doubt is feigned, it is often used to guide the audience to the point that the speaker wishes to make.
- Aporia is also known as dubitatio, though some contend that in dubitatio, the uncertainty is always feigned or disingenuous.
- Aporia can be a statement as well as a question.
- A common example of feigned aporia can be seen when someone has to say a speech about a very close friend or relative; for example, at a wedding or going away party. In such speeches we often hear sentences such as: “What can I say about So-and-So?” There is no question that the speaker has plenty to say.
- Aporia is also a philosophical term. It pertains to philosophical questions that have no clear answers. Socrates and Plato were famous for such questions.
“I am at no loss for information about you and your family; but I am at a loss where to begin. Shall I relate how your father Tromes was a slave in the house of Elpias, who kept an elementary school near the Temple of Theseus, and how he wore shackles on his legs and a timber collar round his neck? Or how your mother practised daylight nuptials in an outhouse next door to Heros the bone-setter, and so brought you up to act in tableaux vivants and to excel in minor parts on the stage?”
— Demosthenes, On the Crown, 330 B.C.
“Whether he took them from his fellows more impudently, gave them to a harlot more lasciviously, removed them from the Roman people more wickedly, or altered them more presumptuously, I cannot well declare.“
“We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that ‘We’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘You’re on your own.’ So who’s right? Well, since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private- sector jobs. So what’s the job score? Republicans: 24 million. Democrats: 42 [million].”
“The Republicans call it Obamacare and say it’s a government takeover of health care that they’ll repeal. Are they right? Let’s look at what’s happened so far.”
— Bill Clinton, Democratic National Convention, 5 September 2012
“Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I’ve failed as much as I’ve succeeded. But I love my wife; I love my life; and I wish you my kind of success.”
— Jared Jussim as Dicky Fox in Jerry Maguire (1996)