Stasis Theory in Critical Thinking

Written by Argumentful


One of the issues without a consensus in today’s world remains the matter of abortion.

There are no international or multinational treaties that deal directly with abortion but human rights law and International criminal law touch on the issues.

While abortions are legal under certain conditions in most countries, these conditions vary widely.

According to Wikipedia:

-Abortion is allowed in most countries (97 percent) in order to save a woman’s life.

-Other commonly-accepted reasons are preserving physical (68 percent) or mental health (65 percent).

-Performing an abortion because of economic or social reasons is accepted in 35 percent of countries.

-But performing abortion only on the basis of a woman’s request is allowed in 30 percent of countries, including in the US, Canada, most European countries, and China, with 42 percent of the world’s population living in such countries.

So you can see how the world is divided on this issue.

Most of those who oppose the legalization of abortion, offer as major contributing argument the statement:

Abortion is murder.

By contrast, those who sustain that abortion should be legal use the following as major contributing argument:

Women have the right to choose what happens to their bodies, including terminating a pregnancy.

So why is it that these 2 opposing groups cannot come to an agreement?

To understand this matter, we need to dive into Stasis Theory.

What is Stasis Theory?

Stasis Theory offers a systematic way of asking questions about issues being debated. It is believed that Stasis formed part of the rhetorical tool set as early as the 4th century BC; the system became popular in the 2nd century BC due to Hermagoras who documented the process. Although the original text was lost, the contents of the process were retrieved by putting together details from the writings of Cicero and other ancient writers.

When two opponents discuss a certain matter, they must come to a point where they agree on what the matter being discussed is, or otherwise put, what is at issue.

One of the meaning of Stasis is “standing together”, so being in agreement on what is at issue.

Another way to put it- what is it that we agree to disagree on?

Stasis Theory Argument Categories

By using Stasis theory, all arguments or matters can be grouped under very specific categories. Here are the four categories as listed by Jennifer Fletcher in her book: Teaching Arguments.

Questions of Fact:

-Did something happen?

-Is it real?

-What is its origin or cause?

Questions of Definition:

-What is its nature?

-What are its parts?

-How is it classified?

Questions of Quality:

-What is its quality?

-Is it good or bad?

-Harmful or helpful?

Questions of Policy:

-What actions should be taken?

-How can we make things better?

How can we use these?

How Can We Use Stasis Theory in Critical Thinking?

This method can be used in several ways in order to exercise critical thinking. First of all for reading and understanding arguments, secondly in writing arguments.

Exercising Critical Thinking in Reading and Understanding Arguments

When coming across an argument, whether originating in a newspaper article, academic paper or listening to a televised debate – stasis theory can help us understand what the central question which is being addressed is.

For example- reading a Guardian article on the climate and coronavirus and following the Stasis Theory line of questioning, we can come up with the following questions:

Question of Definition:

•             What impact does/did the coronavirus have on the climate emergency?

Question of Fact:

•             Is the exploitation of other species the cause of the coronavirus?

Question of Policy:

•             Should the future policies ensure that recovery from the crisis is “green” by directing all stimulus packages only towards renewable energy and zero- or low-carbon infrastructure and transport?

Questions of Quality:

•             Is it good that US and Canada governments bail out oil and gas companies during coronavirus crisis?

•             Is it good that UK government intervened in the economy during the coronavirus crisis?

Listing these questions and re-validating them against the central idea of the article, you may decide on a certain issue at stake.

But your friend reading the same article might have a different opinion. Each of these questions can be explored in a variety of ways, but you can imagine how difficult it would be if your friend was debating about the coronavirus cause while you are debating on the impact that the coronavirus has on the climate emergency.

The conversation would be quite disconnected.

Key takeaway: identify the central idea of the text by making use of Stasis Theory.

Exercising Critical Thinking in Writing Arguments

There is a 2nd way in which we can use Stasis Theory.

When writing an argument: explore the types of questions that could come up on a certain issue you are selecting: for example the topic of part time working for students.

Question of Fact: What is the history in your country for part time working for students?

Question of Definition: What are the key characteristics of part time working for students? How does it differ from part time working for moms? How does it differ from full time working?

Question of Quality: Is part time working for students better than getting enrolled in an extracurricular school activity or a music or painting course?

Question of Policy: Should parents allow part time working for their children?

After defining these questions, you can do some research on each of them and see if they are worth pursuing. If no-one else is talking about an issue, then it’s best to drop it. The conversation on a matter worth pursuing has probably already started and you’d be joining it with your own unique view, but with a duty to find out through research what others have said on that topic.

Key takeaway: use Stasis Theory to brainstorm the various question that surround an issue with the purpose of choosing the question worth pursuing.

Let’s go back to the issue of legalization of abortion.

As mentioned before, those who oppose the legalization of abortion, offer as major contributing argument the statement:

Abortion is murder.

Whereas, those who maintain that abortion should be legal use the following as major contributing argument:

Women have the right to choose what happens to their bodies, including terminating a pregnancy.

Looking at these 2 statements from the Stasis Theory perspective:

Abortion is murder- is a question of definition


Women have the right to choose what happens to their bodies, including terminating a pregnancy- is a question of policy.

It is not possible for these two opposing views to ever come to an agreement, because each side is debating a different topic and the 2 opposing groups have not even come to an agreement on what is at issue.

In their book Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students, the authors propose that there is a way in which this could be solved (or stasis could be reached):

The two parties need to agree on what is at issue and choose between the two arguments:

  •  Whether abortion is murder or not, in which case the two parties should assume one of the following positions:
  • Abortion is murder
  • Abortion is not murder.


  • Whether women have the right to decide what happens to their bodies, even when they are pregnant. In this case the two positions would be:
  • Women have the right to decide what happens to their bodies, including terminating a pregnancy.
  • Women do not have the right to decide what happens to their bodies when they are pregnant because a potential life is at stake.

The problem is that none of the opposing parties is willing to discuss the views from the other standpoint. The pro-choice groups are never debating on whether abortion is murder or not, while the pro-life groups also never discuss about women’s decisions regarding their bodies when pregnant. Perhaps not accidentally they are called pro-life and pro-choice, rather than anti-choice and anti-life.

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  1. Carla Clark

    Pro-Choicers quite often address the argument about abortion being murder.

    • Argumentful

      Thank you, Carla, that’s interesting. Do you have a link or reference to share where they are addressing the argument in this way? Should be useful to see how they respond to it.


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