Ethos Logos Pathos: Successful Arguments the Aristotle Way

“Persuasion is clearly a sort of demonstration, since we are most fully persuaded when we consider a thing to have been demonstrated,” Aristotle wrote in Rhetoric around 350 BCE.

The art of persuading others to your point of view relies on different arguments for different individuals, and these must be used in conjunction with each other to successfully make your case.

Aristotle believed that the art of persuasion required the understanding of the three basic ways to influence your audience: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. Knowing these three tactics will allow any speaker to appeal to his audience’s sense of authority, logic or their emotions.

Ethos: Man’s Morals and Habits

imgThe first part of Aristotle’s triumvirate of persuasion is Ethos, which is the Greek word that means “customs” or “habit” and has the connotation of referring to a person’s moral code and their character.

When Aristotle spoke of this term, he was referring to the need for the speaker to appeal to the audience’s belief in the authority and honesty of the speaker – essentially the speaker needs to establish credibility or authority and then remind the audience of those qualities and justifications.

Making yourself seem more credible or appear to be an authority on a subject improves persuasiveness because people tend to believe those they respect.

The trustworthiness of the speaker relying on Ethos is built on a variety of different levels, the most common of which are:

  • Similarity to the audience: audiences are more likely to be persuaded by someone they can relate to or they feel looks and sounds like them.
  • Authority: this is based on the experience or role of the speaker. A college astronomy professor is viewed as more reliable than a yoga instructor when speaking about comets; knowing the speaker through the former role is more persuasive even if that teacher moonlights as a yoga instructor on the weekends.
  • Reputation: knowing about a subject and being well known in its related field also increase the persuasiveness of a speaker. Reputation is the audience’s understanding of how well a speaker knows the subject, so public figures like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson get an added boost to their credibility through their prominence.

Spock Was a Logos Kind of Guy

320x240Logic may sometimes feel cold, but any Star Trek fan can tell you that it also proves to be very reassuring and persuasive when you’re in need of information you can trust.

Logos is the appeal to the audience’s sense of logic and relies on reasoning to persuade people. Aristotle was especially intrigued by Logos because of how well logic can be used to arrive at claims that are counterintuitive or even antithetical to the original purpose.

Logos is the Greek word for “word” and is largely concerned with the internal consistency of a claim based on a few core features:

  • Clarity. This is simply how clear it is for an audience to follow the speaker’s progression from point A to point B. Speaking on complex topics requires a specific and broad set of steps so the audience can follow. Ambiguity of terms or steps hurts clarity.
  • Logic/reasoning. For persuasion, logic and reasoning must be sound but they also must be easy to understand. Successful speakers use large, sweeping logical steps to advance their argument. With less experienced audiences, larger steps may be needed; knowledgeable audiences require more deliberate steps and very nuanced logic./li>
  • Evidence. This one is relatively straightforward. The stronger the supporting evidence, the more persuasive the point when appealing to an audience’s sense of reason. The framing of evidence also helps with this appeal and successful speakers often use evidence to bridge both Ethos and Logos by citing credible sources outside of the speaker’s experience or work.

Suffering Is Pathos

The Greek word for “suffering” or “experience” is Pathos, the term Aristotle used for a reliance on emotions to make a persuasive point.

Pathos is largely considered to be an emotional appeal on any level, but Aristotle chose his word carefully because truly successful Pathos persuasion targets an audience’s sympathy and empathy. The speaker or author wants the audience to move past understanding and reach a point where they identify with the argument from his point of view.

Think of Pathos as getting an audience to feel your pain. It is often used as a way to combine the seemingly separate parts of Ethos and Logos.

Storytellers tend to be masters of Pathos-style persuasion because the connection can be made to a character, removing most prejudice associated with the storyteller themselves. Stories allow the teller to weave a narrative that combines the familiarity of the audience using their own morals (an Ethos appeal) with a logical story progression and outcome (Logos).

The combination allows the listener to imagine themselves going through the example and can stir them to take the action required by the protagonist or needed in order to save or avenge the protagonist.

Narratives also allow the storyteller to bring up an audience’s existing moral or religious code without the need to define the items or refer to them specifically. This allows for a fluid story where the audience can engage directly with its action, instead of needing to build a purely logical reasoning behind what is just or proper.

Strength in Numbers

Pathos is sometimes considered the strongest of the three argument styles because large groups are often more subject to more emotional sways and persuasion, says Martha Henning. The classic rhetorical tactics behind the mob mentality are viewed as Pathos on a large and dangerous scale.

Emotions can also be used successfully to change an argument, by associating anger or pity with individuals instead of an argument.

Despite this power, many rhetoric professors and scholars say that the most persuasive speeches and text combine all three types of persuasion in order to make stronger arguments.

Relying on all three allows the speaker to drum up an audience by playing on their emotions (Pathos), providing support to show why they should be believed when presenting a way to address the problem (Ethos), and then clearly laying out a strategy and how it benefits the audience (Logos).

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