stasis (rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

stasis (classical rhetoric)
"Stasis is the basic issue of a dispute," says George A. Kennedy, "and results from the stance taken by the protagonists" (Greek Rhetoric Under Christian Emperors, 1983). (Wittelsbach bernd/Getty Images)


In classical rhetoric, stasis is the process of, first, identifying the central issues in a dispute, and next finding arguments by which to address those issues effectively. Plural: staseis. Also called stasis theory or the stasis system.

Stasis is a basic resource of invention. The Greek rhetorician Hermagoras of Temnos identified four major types (or divisions) of stasis:

  1. Latin coniectura, "conjecturing" about the fact at issue, whether or not something had been done at a particular time by a particular person: e.g., Did X actually kill Y?
  1. Definitiva, whether an admitted action falls under the legal "definition" of a crime: e.g., Was the admitted killing of Y by X murder or homicide?
  2. Generalis or qualitas, the issue of "the quality" of the action, including its motivation and possible justification: e.g., Was the murder of Y by X in some way justified by the circumstances?
  3. Translatio, objection to the legal process or "transference" of jurisdiction to a different tribunal: e.g., Can this court try X for a crime when X has been given immunity from prosecution or claims the crime was committed in another city?

(Adapted from A New History of Classical Rhetoric by George A. Kennedy. Princeton University Press, 1994)

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Greek, "stance. placing, position"

Examples and Observations

  • "Although he recognized the need to define the question at issue in a trial, Aristotle did not develop a theory to cover the various possibilities, nor did he use the term stasis. . . . The word literally means 'stand, standing, stance,' describes the 'stance' of a boxer toward an opponent, and perhaps was transferred from that context to the stand taken by a speaker toward an opponent. Quintilian (3.6.23) saw the influence of Aristotle's dialectical categories of substance, quantity, relation, and quality on concepts of stasis, which in Latin is called constitutio or status."
    (George A. Kennedy, A New History of Classical Rhetoric. Princeton University. Press, 1994)
  • "Hermagoras was the most important contributor to stasis theory before the 2nd century AD and made stasis theory a much more important part of the rhetorical curriculum. However, only fragments of the works of Hermagoras have been preserved. Modern knowledge of the evolution of stasis theory is derived primarily from Rhetorica ad Herennium and Cicero's De Inventione."
    (Arthur R. Emmett, "Hermogenes of Tarsus: Rhetorical Bridge From the Ancient World to the Modern." Rediscovering Rhetoric, ed. by Justin T. Gleeson and Ruth C. A. Higgins. Federation Press, 2008)
  • The Stasis System
    "In Book One of De Inventione, Cicero discusses a system for thinking through a judicial case, called the stasis (struggle or stopping point) system. An aspiring rhetorician could learn the skill by analyzing a case by dividing the debate into the likely issues of conflict, or stopping points. . . .

    "Students studying a stasis system learned to think through cases by following the points at which disagreements were likely to arise. These points of stasis, or struggle, . . . divided a complex case into its component parts or questions. Arguments relevant to questions of fact, definition, and quality were rehearsed and thus integrated into the student's pattern of thinking."
    (James A. Herrick, The History and Theory of Rhetoric. Allyn & Bacon, 2008)
  • The Stasis Doctrine: Three Questions
    "The stasis doctrine, a procedure for determining relevant issues, was a staple concept for the Roman rhetoricians. According to the simplest interpretation of this doctrine, three questions are involved in the crux of a given case: (1) 'Did anything happen?' a conjectural question answered by physical evidence; (2) 'What name should be applied to what happened?' a question answered by precise definitions; (3) 'What sort of an action was it?' a qualitative inquiry allowing the orator to specify mitigating circumstances.

    "Additional material could be adduced by employing the topics."
    (Donovan J. Ochs, "Cicero's Rhetorical Theory." A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric, 3rd ed., by James J. Murphy and Richard A. Katula. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003)
  • The Stasis Doctrine Applied to Yogi Bear
    "To return for a moment to Jellystone Park, conjectural stasis would have us ask whether Yogi Bear was responsible for the disappearance of the picnic basket, definitional stasis whether he grabbed it and snaffled the contents, qualitative stasis whether the bylaws of Jellystone Park prohibit the theft of picnic baskets, and translative status whether the alleged theft should be tried in a human court or whether this thieving wild animal should be summarily shot by a park ranger."
    (Sam Leith, Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric From Aristotle to Obama. Basic Books, 2012)
  • "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 in the rhetorical as well as the legal literature has fluctuated greatly."
    (Hanns Hohmann, "Stasis," in Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, ed. Thomas O. Sloane. Oxford University Press, 2001)

    Pronunciation: STAY-sis

    Also Known As: stasis theory, issues, status, constitutio

    Alternate Spellings: staseis

    mla apa chicago
    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "stasis (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Sep. 12, 2016, Nordquist, Richard. (2016, September 12). stasis (rhetoric). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "stasis (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 22, 2018).