One of the issues that emerged for me while reading Crowley’s Toward a Civil Discourse is the importance of stasis—especially in today’s political discourse. In chapter 2, “Speaking of Rhetoric,” Crowley makes the point: “Rhetorically speaking, if stasis is not achieved, each side may generate all the evidence in the world to support its claims and yet never engage in argument” (29). This comment comes shortly after discussing the futile efforts each side of the abortion debate achieve by arguing the issue from different angles, and never agreeing to the terms of the argument—or coming to “stasis.”
As George Kennedy outlines in A New History of Classical Rhetoric, stasis theory is attributed as being fully “worked out in detail” by Hermagoras of Temnos around the middle of the second century BC, during the Hellenistic period. Looking back before Hermagoras, Kennedy interestingly notes that Aristotle never covers this form of invention strategy (97). Kennedy goes on to mention how,
According to Quintilian (3.6.3), it was first employed either by Naucrates, a pupil of Isocrates, or by Zopyrus of Clazomene, and he [Quintilian] points to the use of the word in Aeschines’ speech Against Ctesiphon (206) where the orator demands that Demosthenes be forced to speak about the real “stasis” of the case. (97-98)
I think looking at the historical background of stasis can provide us with a foundation for better understanding Crowley’s use of the term and attempt at outlining what a civil discourse might look like. As mentioned in class, “stasis” is a word that literally means “stand, standing, stance” in relation to a boxer’s stance toward an opponent (Kennedy 98). For Hermagoras, stasis was a form of invention that allowed a person to see the issue of debate in all its parts. It was a questioning strategy that included conjecture, definition, quality, and transference. Kennedy does a great job outlining the four questions. I thought it would be helpful to share his overview of these four points of stasis (Kennedy 98-99):
1. Stochasmos, 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?
- In stasis of fact it is necessary to prove or disprove motive, ability, and desire. Further, the defendant’s person and character furnish evidence to indicate the probability or improbability of the alleged action.
2. Horos, Latin 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?
- If the stasis is one of definition (On Invention 2.53ff.), the speaker should define the crime, prove the definition, compare it with the act of the person accused, introduce commonplaces on the enormity and wickedness of the crime, or in the case of the defendant, on the utility and honorable nature of the act, attach the definition the opponent offers, compare similar cases, and finally attach the opponent personally.
3. Kata symbebekos or poiotes, Latin 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?
- The most complicated: It was to be employed when the speakers agreed about what had been done and about the legal term to describe the action, but disagreed about such matters as whether the action was important, just, or useful. Here the defendant could claim mitigating circumstances. Hermagoras divided stasis of quality into four parts:
- Deliberative: the topic of “advantageous” is characteristic of deliberative rhetoric.
- Demonstrative (i.e. epideictic): what is praiseworthy or blameworthy
- Judicial: what is advantageous is useful in judicial speeches in explaining the quality of an action (what is just or unjust)
- Pragmatic: probably referred to what was or was not useful or practicable.
4. Metalepsis, Latin 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?
- Is used when the defendant argues that the prosecutor has no right to prosecute or the court has no jurisdiction over the case.
For me, these questions help clarify how, in order for true arguments to be established, we must first agree to the “facts” and “definitions” of debate, as well as the “quality” and “policy” of the issue in debate. In this way, we may better see how we can all come to a common table of civic discourse and debate. And as Crowley so aptly observes in the first chapter: “What is missing from America’s civic discourse at this moment, then, it seems to me, is a willingness to acknowledge difference while remaining open to the necessity of respectful address to others and to their positions” (22). To me it seems, teaching stasis can be a hopeful means of bringing divergent groups together—even if only achieving understandable disagreement.