Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Get a Silly Answer

Yesterday I talked about Topoi - a collection of stock issues that can be used in any debate. Issues have the potential to invalidate a claim by showing that it's irrelevant or poorly defined or that the cure is worse than the disease. When a claim is made and is disputed, the focal point of the disagreement is called a stasis (stases in the plural).

According to the lecture series, "Argumentation", in the classical theory of rhetoric and law there are four types of stases, four types of counter-claims. Consider the claim: "You stole my car".

1. Stasis in Conjecture - dispute the "fact" of the claim
(I was never near your car.)

2. Stasis of Definition - dispute the interpretation the claim
(I did not steal your car, I borrowed it)

3. Stasis of Quality - cite a greater good to justify your action
(Yes I "stole" your car, but it was to drive someone who was dying to the hospital)

4. Stasis of Place - dispute the forum for discussion; this is not the time nor place for debate
(How dare you accuse me of theft in public! I'll see you in court!)

The fourth stasis, Place, is like a trump card; it postpones debate to a future time & place and makes no admission of guilt or innocence. Stasis type 1, Conjecture, is total denial. You lie sir! With type 2, Definition, you admit that you did something but disagree on the interpretation. With type 3, Quality, you admit guilt but claim extenuating circumstances.

Bottom Line

This lecture showed that your reply to a claim is very important. You can safely refuse to reply (#4. I want my lawyer or I plead the 5th Amendment) but if you issue a denial (#1) which is proved false, then you've blown your reliability and won't have much credibility to make a defense using stases 2 or 3. Likewise you lack credibility if your reply is ambiguous, "I did not use your car, but if I did use it then I only borrowed it, and if I did steal it then it was for a good cause." To be credible you have to pick one stasis, 1 or 2 or 3, and stick with it.

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