An Introduction to Aporia
Aporia (also known as diaporesis, etymologically derives from the Greek word “aporos”), is a figure which denotes a pathless path or an impassable passage, suggesting difficulty and perplexity. In rhetoric, it is an indication of real or feigned doubt. The latin term for this device is dubitatioOpens in new window.
Aporia as a rhetorical device also involves the expression of incompetence, humility (often feigned and sometimes genuine), lack of expertise to expertize on the matter at hand. It is a child of the irony family.
Aporia is also used literally to pose a rhetorical question as in:
- “What am I to do?”
- “What shall I do?”
- “What should I do in my situation?”
- “How should I proceed?”
The device is usually incorporated into the beginning of a discourse by the speaker, or a passage by an author; as when for example, Frederick DouglassOpens in new window in his preamble to, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July” Speech, stated:
Likewise, a speaker who notes “My talents do not match the task before me today …”, is employing aporia. When a person claims that he or she cannot put thoughts into words, but then does so at great length, he or she is employing the rhetorical device ‘aporia,’ to feign humility.
Aporia typically consists in the speaker's deceptive attempt to strengthen the incredulity of his own point of view by means of a feigned oratorical helplessness, which expresses itself in the appeal to the audience, made in the form of a rhetorical question, for advice concerning the efficient and relevant intellectual development of the speech.” The ultimate end of employing aporia is to feigned ignorance: if the doubt were genuine, it would not be a rhetorical figure.