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Stasis Theory

Page history last edited by Bradford Hincher 12 years, 1 month ago


Stasis Theory






The word stasis is derived from New Latin, and originally from the Greek word histasthai, which means “to stand.”  Stasis theory is a method of constructing arguments, whose roots lie in ancient Roman rhetorical study.  The central premises of stasis theory involve evaluating arguments according to the anticipated struggles, or points of contention, that lie therein, and reducing these points to something that amounts to a manageable argument.  According to the conventions of rhetoric, stasis theory is classified as a subdivision of Invention.  It is important to recognize that there are multiple modern-day iterations of stasis theory, many of which are identified with varying terminology, but yet are based upon the same principles as ancient Roman concepts.


Ancient and Modern References


Cicero was one of the first known Roman rhetoricians to explicate stasis theory.  In his work De Inventione, he describes argument, in part, as an evaluation of potential disagreements, or stopping points, and proposes a system for designing arguments around them.  The author(s) of Rhetorica ad Herenium espouse these views even earlier.  Modern-day scholars offer descriptions that correspond closely with Cicero’s and with those contained in Rhetorica ad Herenium.  James Herrick, for example, defines the process as a way of learning “to think through cases by following the points at which disagreements” are “likely to arise…” helping to divide “a complex case into its component parts or questions.”  Other present-day descriptions include definitions based upon theories of achieving agreement.


Legal Applications


Stasis theory is often employed in the legal field, and some of the best examples of its usage are derived from legal professionals.  The three most common types of legal arguments, where stasis theory can be utilized, are those which concern conflicting laws, ambiguous laws, and disagreements between the spirit and the letter of particular laws.  With regard to conflicting laws, it is often the case that more than one law applies in a given case, which sometimes occurs when an initial law either supersedes or contradicts a subsequent one.  In such cases, disputes about which law should prevail can often be resolved through the application of principles of stasis theory.


Ambiguity exists when the wording of a law is unclear or nonspecific, engendering dispute between the parties to a case and among the representatives and adjudicators involved.  Stasis theory can help to resolve difficulties arising from ambiguity, by anticipating objections that arise from an inherent lack of clarity.


Arguments as to the spirit versus the letter of particular laws are likely the most common types of legal argument in which stasis theory is utilized.  While some individuals believe that the letter of the law should be interpreted exactly as written, and should be followed without regard to its intention, others believe that that the purpose of a particular law must be analyzed and taken into account during adjudication.  Because the underlying reasoning for a given law is a common point of contention among parties in legal cases, stasis theory is particularly useful in arguing for or against the results that may arise when such reasoning is in dispute.


Other types of legal arguments in which stasis theory is utilized include, but are not limited to, justifications, counterpleas and counteraccusations, pleas for leniency of the court, and inferences from written to unwritten law.


According to the scholar Hanns Hohmann, “stasis theory has [,] to this day [,] exercised important influences on the development of Western law, even if the level of explicit attention to the doctrines of stasis…has fluctuated greatly” [emphasis added].  Thus, it is useful to look at the specific development of stasis theory in modern-day legal instruction.  Pursuant to interviews with current law school students and with attorneys in private practice, an integral component of instruction in the formation and continuance of argumentation consists of a process known as IRACIRAC is an acronym, which stands for Issue, Rule of Law, Application of Facts, and Conclusion.  When utilizing IRAC, law school students and attorneys first identify the Issue that is the basis of the argument.  Thereafter, they learn to locate the Rule of Law that is applicable to the specific case at hand.  The third step involves Applying the Facts of the case to the Rule of Law.  Finally, attorneys utilize the information garnered in steps one through three in order to evaluate the anticipated arguments that, it is believed, will be put forth by the opposing attorney, allowing legal professionals to reach a succinct Conclusion about how their arguments should be formed and deployed.  Simultaneously, the IRAC method serves as a manner by which a complex case can be reduced into four succinct paragraphs.  While many attorneys and law school students, not specifically trained in ancient Roman rhetoric, have never heard of the concept of stasis theory, all of them know about the IRAC method, which is nearly identical.  The majority of the time, attorneys utilize stasis theory unconsciously, rather than deliberately; the application of stasis theory is an automatic evaluation and distillation process for each case that is encountered.


Other Applications of Stasis Theory


Likewise, journalism students routinely receive instruction in a common process identified with the acronym “WWWWWH,” which letters stand for “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.”  This process assists journalists, communication consultants, and others with working through arguments by anticipating the points of contention that are likely to arise, and by reducing those arguments to a concise summary.  Many scholars have equated WWWWWH with stasis theory, as the process is designed to consider the types of issues that will be addressed within arguments.


Everyday writers and speakers utilize stasis theory in their composition and in their oratory as well, because the processes of writing and speaking are often argumentative, requiring individuals to think through the issues and points of contention that may arise.  Andrea Lunsford has noted that establishing sequential questions and sorting “through the claims and counterclaims associated with” each of them is the modern-day definition of stasis theory.




A state of argument known as asystasis occurs when the agreement that is sought, as to the points of contention in an argument, cannot be attained.  Asystasis indicates that the relevant parties to an argument have reached a juncture at which continued involvement in the disputed discussion is no longer effective, because it cannot sufficiently resolve the dilemmas.  Asystatic cases include, but are not limited to, those that appear to be impossible, incredible, or contemptible.  In ancient Rome, arriving at this stage generally meant that the argument stopped, until the underlying disputes could be more effectively resolved.  Much of the time today, parties to an argument are unaware of the existence of asystasis, and continue to argue despite the fact that it is not a worthwhile idea to do so.  Present-day common political and moral disagreements which could be termed asystatic include, but are not limited to, the issues of abortion and capital punishment.




It is important to remember that ancient Roman rhetoricians introduced stasis theory.  Regardless of modern-day terminology, and regardless of the degree of awareness of its existence, stasis theory has wide-ranging implications and is an integral part of our everyday personal and professional lives.



Researched and compiled by: Bradford Hincher 



References and Works Cited


A Companion to Greek Rhetoric. Ed. Ian Worthington. Google Books. Google. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.


“Case Brief Format: IRAC Method.” Classwork: Briefing. Pathfinder Advisers. ND. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.


Cicero. De Inventione. Trans. Charles Yonge. Peitho’s Web. Classical Persuasion. 1998. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.


Creider, Benjamin. Personal Communication. 19 Mar. 2012.


Davis, Janet. "Stasis Theory." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times to the Information Age. Ed. Theresa Enos.  New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.


Herrick, James. The History and Theory of Rhetoric. 3rd ed. Herrick. MIT.edu. 2005. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.


Hincher, Randall. Telephone Interview. 15 Mar. 2012.


Lunsford, Andrea. “Stasis Theory.” The Everyday Writer. 3rd ed. Stanford University. ND. Web. 19 Mar. 2012.


Nordquist, Richard. “Stasis.” Grammar and Composition. About.com. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.


Ochs, Donovan. A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric. 3rd ed. Google Books. Google. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.


Rhetorica ad Herenium. Trans. Henry Caplan. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1964. University of Toronto. 2001. Web. 23 Mar. 2012.


“Stasis.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Encyclopedia Britannica Company. 2012. Web. 19 Mar. 2012.


“Stasis Theory.” Online Writing Lab. Purdue University. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.


“The IRAC Formula.” Guide. Law Nerds.com. 2003. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.


“Themis Relief, Greek Goddess of Justice.” Image. Museumaze. Talaria Enterprises. 2009. Web. 23 Mar. 2012.


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