Concessions may be negotiated in an organized discussion, or presented as such in a monological discourse.

1. Negotiated concession

Through negotiated concessions, the arguer modifies his or her original position by decreasing the original demand or by granting to the adversary a controversial sub-point. From a strategic point of view, this move may amount to an orderly retreat, possibly for future benefit, hoping that the opponent will do the same when it comes to another point.

Aristotelian logical-dialectical games ignore concessions, as a violation of the principle of excluded middle, things being either entirely true, or entirely false; conclusively defended or not, S. Dialectic. In contrast, conceding is a key moment in the negotiation process of human affairs, understood as a discussion leading to a reasonable agreement (Kerbrat-Orecchioni, 2000).

By making concessions, the arguer recognizes that the opponent’s point of view is to some extent valid, whilst continuing to uphold the value of his or her own positions and conclusions. The arguing party may believe that his or her remaining arguments are:

— More compelling, or of a different type than those of the opponent.
— Not strong arguments, but nonetheless arguments grounded on personal values and deep convictions (identity-based arguments).

The original position should thus be maintained against all odds, according to the formula “I do know, but still…”.

In everyday discussions, concessions are valued as manifestations of openness to the others, and as constitutive of a positive ethos. Nonetheless, concessions may be ironic, S. Epitrope.

2. Concession as a speech act

In grammar, concessive constructions “A(claim) + C(concession)” co-ordinate two statements having opposite argumentative orientations, while retaining the overarching orientation determined by the first proposition A:

“Although C, A”; “certainly C, but A
“I admit, I understand C but I stick to A”.

C takes up or reformulates the speech of the opponent, or evokes the speech of a fictitious opponent; A reaffirms the speaker’s claim.

Social relations are indeed extremely tense these days, but we must nonetheless go on restructuring the company.

Unlike negotiated concession, linguistic concession is structural. The speaker sets out:

— first, a virtual character or voice developing the argument “social relations are extremely tense”, oriented towards conclusions such as “stop the restructuring of the company”,

—followed by a second argument, putting forward the opposite position “we must go on restructuring the company”, and identifies with this second character. In Goffman’s words, the speaker is the animator of A, and the animator and principal of C. In other words, the speaker recognizes the existence of arguments supporting an opposing conclusion, but at the same time refuses to conclude on this basis. The concession here is a simple acknowledgment of the fact that somebody, somewhere, says, or may say something opposite to that claimed by the speaker. This amounts to a de-activation of the argumentative strength of the aforementioned argument. This kind of concession is by no means the expression of the goodwill of a reasonable negotiator, but a mere phagocytosis and castration of the opponent’s arguments.

The two forms of concession may be superimposed, by rationalizing the linguistic concession. One considers that linguistic concession occurs when the speaker has taken the opponent’s arguments into consideration and confronted them with his or her own (even if this examination often leaves no discursive trace), and that, finally, in the grand scheme of things, he or she thinks that her or his arguments are better. But since language gives for real and true that which it signifies, a purely linguistic concession automatically produces a negotiated concession effect, whether or not it is really the case. This does not mean that linguistic concession is always mere lip service, but that negotiated concession can only be studied on corpora built to that effect.