Outer-rise stress distributions determined in the manner that mechanical engineers evaluate inelastic stress distributions within conventional materials are contrasted with those predicted using simple elastic-plate models that are frequently encountered in studies of outer-rise seismicity. This comparison indicates that the latter are inherently inappropriate for studies of intraplate earthquakes, which are a direct manifestation of lithospheric inelasticity. We demonstrate that the common practice of truncating elastically superimposed stress profiles so that they are not permitted to exceed laboratory-based estimates of lithospheric yield strength will result in an accurate characterization of lithospheric stress only under relatively restrictive circumstances. In contrast to elastic-plate models, which predict that lithospheric stress distributions depend exclusively upon the current load, inelastic plate models predict that stress distributions are also significantly influenced by the plate-loading history, and, in many cases, this influence is the dominant factor in determining the style of potential seismicity (e.g. thrust versus normal faulting). Numerous 'intuitive' interpretations of outer-rise earthquakes have been founded upon the implicit assumption that a unique relationship exists between a specified combination of plate curvature and in-plane force, and the resulting lithospheric stress distribution. We demonstrate that the profound influence of deformation history often invalidates such interpretations. Finally, we examine the reliability of 'yield envelope' representations of lithospheric strength that are constructed on the basis of empirically determined frictional sliding relationships and silicate plastic-flow laws. Although representations of this nature underestimate the strength of some major interplate faults, such as the San Andreas, they appear to represent a reliable characterization of the strength of intraplate oceanic lithosphere.