Rhetorical Analysis

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For this paper, you need to write a 10+ page paper (quality is more important than quantity) that explores IN DETAIL the relationship between some important classical/medieval rhetorical concept (For example, from classical Greek or Roman rhetoricians and rhetorical concepts such as Plato, Aristotle, the Sophists, the concept of Kairos, or Medieval rhetoricians and rhetorical concepts) OR you may use a rhetorical theory from the classical/medieval tradition to analyze or critique a contemporary rhetorical text. The topic area for this paper is purposefully broad in scope, if not somewhat vague, because it is intended to provide you an opportunity to showcase your thoughts and feelings about classical notions of rhetoric. The nature of this assignment also will require you to conduct extensive external research to support your position. I expect nothing less than at least 10 scholarly (i.e., peer-reviewed) journal articles cited in the paper. You may use additional references as well. Appropriate references are required. The paper should be double-spaced and 12-point font.


Title: The Relationship between the Classical Rhetorical Concepts of Kairos and Stasis

            Classical notions of rhetoric provide important insights for the contemporary conception of the knowledge. Rhetorical theory is replete with examples of how thoughts and feelings can be expressed to convey certain meanings. Medieval rhetoricians such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, and the Sophists made immense contributions to epistemology by providing reasoned arguments relating to a wide range of rhetorical concepts (Paul, 2014). These concepts continue to play an important role in contemporary dialogical engagements. Moreover, in the course of history, classical rhetoric has greatly contributed to developments in different aspects of human life such as ethics, democracy, and law.

One of the classical rhetorical concepts worth examining is the medieval term “kairos”. Kairos falls in the category of pre-Socratic philosophy. It is associated with numerous connotations, including the right measure and the right choice of word at the opportune moment. In simple terms, kairos is a rhetoric that puts emphasis on the assumption that reality is contingent upon man’s use of language to construct his world. Situational context plays a critical role in kairos because any discourse must be contingent upon a specific spatial-temporal situation.

Another classical rhetorical concept that is normally compared to kairos is “stasis”. In stasis, rhetoricians set out to define the point of dissonance at which discourse should begin. It in effect provides a practical method through which established customs and laws can be used for disputing issues. In the classical tradition, stasis is associated primarily with forensic rhetoric, whereby opposing parties seek to identify the precise point at which disagreement arises. The point of disagreement is defined using three elements: existence, procedure or policy, and quality. The classical conception of stasis indicates that rhetoric cannot exist unless there is agreement about the specific point of issue.

Both kairos and stasis seem to share similarities in terms of underlying principles, hence the need to determine whether they can be used interdependently. For instance, both provide insights into the degree of agency that should be attributed to individuals. This paper is based on the thesis that to understand kairos better in the context of classical rhetoric, one should compare it to the concept of stasis. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to examine these two classical rhetorical concepts from a comparative perspective.

The concept of agency that is attributed to participants plays a critical role in epistemology. In many cases, differences in the approaches used in various rhetorical traditions arise because of variations in the degree of agency relied upon to determine the quality of arguments. A case in point is Gorgian kairos, which was articulated on the basis of three qualities: language, community, and situational context (Brizee, 2008). Language represented the field in which humanity existed. Community was considered an important element based on the view that it was impossible to remove individuals from the world context in which they lived. The idea of situational context was used to demonstrate the irrelevance of the idea of the eternal. This meant that the resulting knowledge could only be produced in the context of a specific language, in the present spatial-temporal context, and on the basis of the understanding that it was both contingent and probable.

Unfortunately, no art of making knowledge using kairos has been explicitly articulated. Sophists were known to be ardent users of the dissoi logoi strategy, which is a form of stasis (Brizee, 2008). Sophists understood epistemology to be a thoroughly rhetorical affair. This view became preeminent mainly because of the prevailing notion that knowledge was contingent upon the social discourse that individuals used in specific historical moments and in specific socio-cultural contexts.

Plato did not place a lot of emphasis on kairos and stasis; in fact, he severely reduced their relevance by failing to elaborate on their relevance in epistemology (Metcalfe, 2006). However, unlike kairos, stasis became an established rhetorical procedure in later Roman and Greek rhetorics (Suddaby & Greenwood, 2005). In contrast, Kairos became associated with the sophists’ rhetoric, primarily because paved way for the development of rhetoric in the context of a relativistic epistemology. Although kairos remains unpopular in contemporary rhetorical circles, it provides crucial insights for understanding the social foundations of medieval rhetoric.

The distinct ethical connotations of kairos constitute a major reason why it is conceptually different from stasis. Rhetoricians such as Hesiod, Bias, Chilon, and Pindar used ethical aphorisms in their use of kairos. Meanwhile, the classical understanding of this rhetorical strategy is associated with the Pythagoreans, Gorgias and his teacher, Empedocles. The views of Pythagoreans were particularly important in the kairos debate. They viewed the world in dualistic terms, whereby the opposing principles of form and matter were in perpetual competition. This led to the emergence of a universe that was understood in terms of agonistic relationships such as right/left, tall/short, and black/white. To achieve their generative potential, these opposing forces needed to develop harmonious relationship. The role of kairos was to identify the areas where such harmony existed.

The Pythagoreans used kairos to account for the existence of the universe. They used the concept of opposites and how they were bound together in a harmonious relationship to form the universe. The term “balance” is sometimes used to refer to a situation where opposing forces reach a point where a harmonious relationship can be sustained. Although it maintained an ethical dimension, kairos also attracted more fundamental generative connotations, whereby the universe was created as a result of the conflict and subsequent resolution of monad and dyad or form and matter.

Kairos had a far-reaching impact on sophistic epistemology, mainly because of the way it emphasized the existence of the principle of opposites and the need to promote harmony to reconcile these opposites (Harker, 2007). On this basis, the universe was assumed to exist in a context where contradictory beliefs had been synthesized to generate harmony. Empedocles was a major proponent of this notion of harmony. However, contemporary critics accuse Empedocles of failing to practice credible philosophy. For instance, they oppose his view that human knowledge is attained only through senses. The main reason for opposing this view is that human senses are limited, meaning that they lead to the creation of probable rather than perfect knowledge. To justify this notion, proponents of kairos relied on the concept of relative epistemology. Based on this relativistic foundation, sophists such as Gorgias went on to establish rhetoric.

In kairos, the term dissoi logoi is normally used to refer to contradictory concepts. The concept is important because it demonstrates that the dichotomies inherent in the universe can be explained using the principle of opposites. On this basis, Gorgias presented the concept of probable knowledge as a synthesis of dichotomous antithetical positions. In this regard, an interaction of conflict and resolution was considered important in the creation of knowledge in addition to playing a theoretical role in rhetoric. As a corollary to this argument, Gorgias posited that all arguments that appeal to logic constitute deception although they are not necessarily false. Gorgias  regarded persuasion as deception because of the way in which two opposing meanings could be presented in such a way as to have some claim to truth. This claim to truth emerged in both situations as long as the person making the argument was fully apprehensive of the relativistic dilemma that made it possible for both meanings to be potentially acceptable.

Kairos had a tremendous influence on the sophists’ rhetoric mainly because of the principle of contradiction. However, this was just one of the dimensions that made Kairos an influential rhetorical strategy. Another important dimension for kairos is the “concept of opportune moment”. Kairos is based on the premise that the search for truth occurs in a relativistic world, and that the contingent nature of all forms of knowledge should be acknowledged. In this context, an individual can achieve the form of knowledge that closely resembles universal truth. Put in another way, an individual can differentiate between less and greater probability of truth. Based on this premise, Protagoras argues that the aim of rhetoric is to identify the argument that most closely achieves orthon, or the form of knowledge that closely resembles the truth in the context of a community of listeners.  Proponents of kairos considered this an essential philosophical undertaking because it allowed for rhetorical action.

In the Protagorean conceptionof rhetoric, an important concern arises regarding ways through which the person presenting an argument and the community of listeners can determine which truth seems stronger. One possible course of action entails making a choice among conflicting opinions. In this case, the concept of kairos is used to identify areas where conflicting elements come closest to the point of achieving harmony. When such harmony is realized, the decision that is made involves some form of value judgment. At that point, this decision may be said to represent the stronger truth.

Gorgias employed kairos to rhetoric and ended up with interesting observations. One of them was that it was possible for an entire system of thought to be based on sets of contradicting propositions. He also found out that the concept of “timely” or “opportune” moment was important in rhetoric. The timing of one’s argument played a critical role in determining whether it would lead to a stronger or weaker truth in the context of relativistic epistemology. Consequently, kairos was popularized by sophists as a way of seizing the opportune moment during improvisational speaking. However, other philosophers’ appraisal of Gorgias’ conception of kairos were not as accurate. For instance, many of them viewed him as a revolutionary oratorical and literary stylist, thereby bringing into perspective that kairos was nothing more than a simple stylistic device.

Neither the stylistic nor the improvisational explanation of kairos has succeeded in providing an accurate appraisal of the role kairos played in medieval rhetoric. In the real sense, it played the role of generative dualism. Generative dualism entails the use of conflict and resolution at the opportune moment. The aim of generative dualism is to enable the audience to arrive at the strongest (probable) truth in a world where no absolute wrongs or rights exist and where reasonable, contradictory positions can be taken on every issue. Based on Gorgias’ rhetoric, the rhetorical generation principle should solve this problem.

The rhetorical generation principle has been widely supported by scholars. For instance, is assumed to play a critical role of prompting towards speaking. This means that it lays the groundwork for the presentation of conflicting elements in a situation that present an opportunity for rhetoric. It is also said to act as a criterion for judging the value of a proposition or speech. In this regard, stasis is considered appropriate to situations where there is a need for the value of a speech act or proposition need to be determined. This dual role for kairos emphasizes the temporary context in which opportunities for rhetorical acts arise. It also emphasizes the existence of tension that necessitates the decision by an individual to speak in efforts to defend his position. However, participants in a rhetorical act must be careful to avoid getting misled by the “irrational power” that may present itself disguised as an opportunity to present an argument at a specific time. Instead, kairos should be used as a reference point through which the auditor can be guided towards the discovery of the most probable alternative. At the same time, it should be used to guide the individual presenting an argument in making a decision between two antitheses. With kairos, at no time can the decision become completely arbitrary; this is because of the presence of an ethical basis for decision-making.

The concept of kairos closely resembles that of stasis mainly because both recognize the importance or opposing forces in rhetorical acts (Miles, 2007). Kairos is based on the notions of relativism and dualism as propounded by Empedocles and the Pythagoreans respectively. In philosophical terms, this means that for every logical argument, an equally reasonable, opposing logical argument is plausible. This argument is also propounded in stasis, whereby individuals expressing opposing views seek to identify the specific point in the argument where differences arise.

Kairos and stasis are also similar in the sense that they both stimulate rhetorical action. They act as essential instruments for rhetorical action. Kairos prompts participants towards speaking while stasis gives an indication on how the participants should start their conversation. In both cases, conflicting logical arguments must mark the beginning of a rhetorical act. Moreover, they both provide a means towards breaking the deadlock by signaling movement towards rhetorical action.

Another similarity is that both concepts are useful for conflict resolution by providing judgment (Boer, 2013). This means that they play the role of directing rhetorical discourse. The only caveat in this case is that the types of judgments delivered tend to be different. In kairos, an individual may resort to non-rational judgment depending on the circumstances provided by the opportune moment. In stasis, judges set out to resolve the initial conflict based on a rational response to the question agreed upon by both parties as the source of tension. Incidentally, both approaches lead to resolution regardless of the “quality” of judgment delivered.

In medieval rhetoric, kairos and stasis gained immense reputation as systems of inquiry. Through these approaches, philosophers only needed to maintain a balance between thesis and antithesis to create new knowledge. Some of the philosophers who used these principles include Zeno, Empedocles, the Pythagoreans, and many other sophists (Roberts, 2003). In fact, these systems of inquiry developed into a philosophical tradition in which dichotomous antithetical positions were synthesized systematically to reveal probable opinion or knowledge.

The centrality of the rhetorical situation is perhaps the main reason why these medieval rhetorical strategies developed into a philosophical tradition. Both kairos and stasis emphasize a sense of urgency, which is a defining feature of all situations where people express opposing views on important matters. For instance, kairos defines “the opportune moment” to present views regarding a certain position in a logical argument while stasis sets out to identify the ideal place to start deliberations in a conflict. In both approach, all participants have an equal chance of advancing their arguments, thereby laying the ground bare for the emergence of the most probable truth.

Kairos and stasis also have some differences, which may not have escaped the attention of classical rhetoricians. One of them is that they are founded on opposing epistemologies. They are also different in the sense that kairos is based on an epideictic approach while stasis emphasizes judicial rhetoric. Stasis builds on specific aspects of rhetorical strategy while kairos looks at rhetorical acts from a general perspective. Many proponents of kairos, including Gorgias, have been accused of failing to establish a systematic art of rhetorical acts (Jordheim, 2007). They also face criticism for using model speeches in their teachings on rhetoric (Jordheim, 2007). The use of model speeches creates the impression that kairos cannot be applied universally in all speech situations.

It is also common for differences between the two strategies to be explained from a historical perspective. In this regard, a dominant argument is that stasis is simply a form of kairos that emphasizes judicial discourse upon undergoing transformation in the form of rationalistic and idealistic epistemology. This is not a far-fetched notion because stasis has never been restricted to one philosophical tradition. This fact can be proven through an in-depth analysis of the philosophers who have used it extensively. Although the technical dimension of stasis tends to have strong associations to the Aristotelian tradition, its source can be traced to the Greek rhetoric tradition, of which sophists made a crucial contribution (Kinneavy & Eskin, 2000).

In conclusion, it is difficult to arrive at a conclusive discussion regarding the relationship between stasis and kairos. However, using a historical perspective, one can pinpoint several similarities between these two rhetorical strategies. This paper has shown that social context plays a critical role in initiating rhetorical acts as well as creating opportune moments for the identification of the most probable truths. This is a demonstration of the social nature of the epistemological discourse during the classical era. A major contribution of this paper to research on classical rhetoric is that kairos and stasis may be viewed as two sides of the same phenomenon. More specifically, stasis may be viewed as a form of kairos. Further research on historical evidence is needed to shed more light on the validity of this proposition. In such research, efforts should be made to identify the reasons why proponents of stasis were preoccupied with judicial rhetoric.



Boer, R. (2013). Revolution in the Event: The Problem of Kairós. Theory, Culture & Society,30(2), 116-134.

Brizee, H. (2008). ‘Stasis Theory as a Strategy for Workplace Teaming and Decision Making’, Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 38(4), 363 – 385.

Harker, M. (2007). The Ethics of Argument: Rereading Kairos and Making Sense in a Timely Fashion. College Composition and Communication, 59(1), 77-97.

Jordheim, H. (2007). Conceptual History between Chronos and Kairos – the Case of “Empire”. Redescriptions: Political Thought, Conceptual History and Feminist Theory, 11(11), 115-145.

Kinneavy, J. & Eskin, C. (2000). Kairos in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Written Communication, 17(3), 432-444.

Metcalfe, A. (2006). ‘It Was the Right Time To Do It’: Moving House, the Life‐Course and Kairos. Mobilities, 1(2), 243-260.

Miles, L. (2007). Rhetorical Work: Social Materiality, Kairos, and Changing the Terms. JAC, 27(3),743-758.

Paul, J. (2014). The Use of Kairos in Renaissance Political Philosophy. Renaissance Quarterly, 67(1), 43-78.

Roberts, J. (2003). Kairos, Chronos and Chaos. Group Analysis, 36(2), 202-217.

Suddaby, R. & Greenwood, R. (2005). Rhetorical Strategies of Legitimacy. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50(1), 35-67.

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