|The Appeals: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos
According to Aristotle, our perception
of a speaker or writer’s character influences how believable
or convincing we find what that person has to say. This projected character
is called the speaker or writer’s ethos. We are naturally more likely to
be persuaded by a person who, we think, has personal warmth, consideration
of others, a good mind and solid learning. Often we know something of the
character of speakers and writers ahead of time. They come with a reputation
or extrinsic ethos. People whose education, experience, and previous performances
qualify them to speak on a certain issue earn the special extrinsic ethos
of the authority. But whether or not we know anything about the
speaker or writer ahead of time, the actual text we hear or read, the way
it is written or spoken and what it says, always conveys and impression
of the author’s character. This impression created by the text itself is
the intrinsic ethos.
Institutions, public roles and publications
also project an ethos or credibility. We assume, for example, that The
New York Times is a more credible source than the Weekly
World News or the National Enquirer. And we usually assume that
a person selected for a position of responsibility or honor is more credible
than someone without official sanction. These expectations about credibility
and ethos are occasionally disappointed.
The persuasive appeal of pathos is an appeal
to an audience’s sense of identity, their self-interest,
their emotions. Many rhetoricians over the centuries have
considered pathos the strongest of the appeals, though this view of persuasion
is rarely mentioned without a lament about the power of emotion to sway
Appeals to our sense of identity and self
interest exploit common biases; we naturally bend in the direction of what
is advantageous to us, what serves our interests or the interests of any
group we believe ourselves a part of. Even when advantage is not an issue,
writers who belong to groups we identify with, or create groups we can
belong to, often seem more compelling. We also naturally find more persuasive
the speaker or writer who flatters us (especially indirectly) instead of
insulting us. Thus skillful writers create a positive image in their words
of the audience they are addressing, an image their actual readers can
identify with. Who does not want to be the “sensible, caring person” the
arguer describes? Especially powerful are devices that create an identity
between the writer and reader so that the speaker almost seems to be the
audience addressing itself.
The emotions also strongly assist, perhaps
sometimes determine, persuasion. If, for example, a writer wants a reader
to evaluate something negatively, she or he may try to arouse the reader’s
anger. Or to produce action to someone’s benefit (e.g. to persuade us to
make a charitable donation), an arguer may work on our pity.
Direct appeals to the reader to feel an
emotion (e.g. “You should be crying now”) are rarely effective. Instead,
creating an emotion with words usually requires recreating the scene or
event that would in “real” circumstances arouse the emotion. Thus descriptions
of painful or pleasant things work on the emotions. Or the arguer can work
on the natural “trigger” of the emotion. If, for example, we usually feel
anger at someone who, we believe, has received benefits without deserving
them, then the arguer who wants to make us angry with someone will make
a case that person was rewarded unfairly.
Finally, we come to the “argument” itself,
the explicit reasons [the logic] the arguer
provides to support a position. There are many ways to describe the support
provided in an argument, but a sample way to begin is to consider all the
premises the author seems to supply. These can be scattered throughout
the argument and expressed indirectly, so identifying premises is a judgment
call in itself.
Next ask which of the premises are presented
as objects of agreement that the arguer considers as given,
elements of the argument taken for granted. Objects of agreement are basically
either facts or values. Of course, the facts
may not be facts and readers may not agree with the values assumed. Some
of the premises will be supported further, but basically every argument
has got to come down to certain objects of agreement that it presents as
shared between arguer and audience.
You can also classify premises into the
Are they arguments based on definition?
In other words, does the arguer make claims about the nature of things,
about what terms mean, what features things have?
Does the arguer make analogies or comparisons?
Does he or she cite parallel cases?
Are there appeals to cause and consequences?
Arguing from consequence is especially common when policy issues are debated.
Does the arguer rely on testimony or
authority by citing the received opinions of experts? Or does the
author create some kind of authoritative reference group, citing public
opinion on what most people think as support for his or her position?