Ethos, Pathos and Logos

The Basic Idea

We are bombarded with messages from companies, authorities, and family and friends on a daily basis. Often, the aim is to influence our behavior in a particular way. Companies might try to get you to buy their product; the government might urge you to recycle; your family might advise your career path; your friends might persuade you to party with them this weekend. Since our behavior is influenced by so many different messages, what determines which information we listen to and which we ignore?

Ethos, pathos and logos are three methods of persuasion: rhetorical appeals that influence decision-making.

Ethos is an appeal to the authority and reputation of the speaker (or writer).1 For example, if your dad wants you to study business at school, he might say, “I’m older and have more life experience, therefore I know what’s best for you.”

Pathos is an appeal to emotions.1 Pulling at an audience’s heart strings can persuade them to listen. For example, if the government makes an emotional plea that you have to recycle more because Earth is ‘dying,’ their emotive language might make you more likely to act.

Lastly, logos is an appeal to logic or evidence, which often takes the form of statistics.1 If a company wants you to buy their all-purpose cleaner, they might persuade you by advertising that it “kills 98% of all bacteria and germs.”

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible..

– Aristotle, in Rhetoric2

Examples of The Three Modes of Persuasion

Ethos (Appeal to Authority):
  • “4 out of 5 dentists with extensive knowledge on oral hygiene recommend this brand of toothpaste.”
  • “My ten years in public service and my lifelong commitment to this community make me the ideal candidate to be your mayor.”
  • “Having dedicated much of my adult life to the study of nutrition, which resulted in a PhD in Health Sciences from Harvard, I can confidently recommend everyone eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.”
Pathos (Appeal to Emotions):
  • Ring cameras don’t only help you monitor who comes in and inside your house – they can help you protect your loved ones. Can you put a price on the safety of your spouse and kids?”
  • “If we don’t stop using straws now, turtles will suffer, and so will we when they become extinct.”
  • “If the fact that a gender wage gap still exists doesn’t affect you – consider your future daughter. Do you want her to suffer because we didn’t work towards equality now?”
Logos (Appeal to Logic):
  • “Of over 200 adults studied, we found that 97% benefited from taking our health supplement.”
  • “The rise of crime in summertime can be explained by examining the impact that heat has on the human body. Heat causes exhaustion and irritation which helps explain the 5% increase in violent crimes on hot days.”
  • “You should buy this car now because we have a 15% off sale. Your car is on its last legs, so the question isn’t if, but when, you’ll have to buy a new one, and now is the best time for you economically.”

History

Aristotle identified the three primary ways to make appeals in speech: ethos, pathos, and logos. The first volume of his Rhetoric focused on these three modes of persuasion. He recognized that the context in which someone makes an appeal matters and might require different versions of each of the primary modes of persuasion. Volume II of Rhetoric therefore examines three different kinds of public speech: deliberative speech, judicial speech and epideictic speech.5

Deliberative speech contexts are situations in which the speaker is either advising the audience for or against doing something.5 This means the audience is asked to consider things that will happen in the future.

Judicial speech occurs in a courtroom, where lawyers are either accusing or defending someone. Judicial speech is always about things that happened in the past.5

Epideictic speech, unlike deliberative and judicial speech, isn’t aimed at persuading people to make a particular decision, but instead, to get people to believe in the goodness or evilness of a person. Epideictic speech either praises or blames someone.5

Based on the three modes of persuasion and the three contexts of speech, Aristotle outlines the different ways that ethos, pathos and logos can be used to persuade an audience in Rhetoric. He viewed these methods as ‘technical’ means through which to persuade, which have to be provided by the speaker, as opposed to preexisting facts or knowledge that people already have.5

Rhetoric is part manifesto, part Aristotle’s personal notes, both descriptive and prescriptive. It has been one of the most influential texts for the field of rhetoric, translated countless times into numerous languages.4 It was one of the first texts to make a clear distinction between rhetoric and dialectic (although Aristotle maintained that they were closely related). Rhetoric, and along with it, the three primary modes of persuasion, became an integral component of education in Greece, which spread throughout the world during the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods.4

Consequences

Since it isn’t only what information we are presented with, but also how that information is presented to us that influences behavior and decision-making, ethos, pathos and logos are essential tactics for us to understand and employ.

The framing effect describes how our decisions are influenced by the way information is presented and which aspects of it are emphasized. In that way, ethos, pathos and logos can be understood as techniques of emphasis: ethos emphasizes authority, pathos emphasizes emotions, and logos emphasizes evidence.

Being aware of these methods of persuasion helps us become critical of the ways our decisions are influenced by politicians and marketers. There are tactful ways to speak and write that influence our decisions, which can both help inform how we approach our own communication, and also help us be reflective about our choices and views. It can motivate us to focus on facts rather than be blinded by poetic and persuasive language.

Controversy

While Aristotle was one of the first philosophers to study rhetoric on such a grand scale and produce a canonical text on the subject, many people had already been interested in rhetoric.

In fact, Aristotle’s conception of rhetoric differed slightly from Plato’s, who had been Aristotle’s philosophical mentor and teacher for a number of years. In Plato’s opinion, rhetoric should be used to convey truth (facts) which are already known to the audience, but needing to be reaffirmed.6 Aristotle was less concerned about ‘truth’, and expanded the defined purpose of rhetoric to encompass any form of persuasion, regardless of the claims’ accuracies.

Plato also thought that rhetoric did not require a unique body of knowledge and that it therefore was not a ‘true art.’7 Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that specific knowledge of ethos, pathos and logos, which are unique to rhetoric, was required for persuasion; knowledge of the ‘truth’ of a subject was not sufficient to be an effective communicator. Because Plato criticized rhetoric rather than valorized it, Aristotle is usually recognized as the founding father of the field.

Aristotle believed that ethos, pathos and logos were modes through which anyone, if they studied properly, could persuade people. However, this understanding of what ingredients are necessary to affect change ignores a lot of sociopolitical issues that impact persuasion. Not everyone has the same ability to speak, or the same platform through which to broadcast their opinions.7 Even if someone has mastered ethos, pathos, and logos, their race, gender or economic position might prevent them from the authority and position necessary to be able to persuade people.

Case Studies

Combating COVID-19

The severity of COVID-19 seemed to sweep the planet in only a number of days, establishments closing with next to no notice and people instructed to stay at home overnight. The speed with which this virus changed our lives has meant that scientists and governments have had trouble preventing its spread. In part, this is because especially at the beginning of the virus, there was little knowledge about it – so political leaders could not rely on the ‘what’ to persuade people to stay home, but instead, had to rely on tactics like ethos, pathos, and logos.

Different nations have had varying levels of success in getting their citizens to act fast. Political leaders in Italy and the UK had success persuading their citizens to take preventive measures before a global lockdown ensued.8 Their success might be attributed to their use of the three primary modes of persuasion. For example, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte used ethos to emphasize the credibility of his government’s COVID-19 policies: “We always acted on the basis of the evaluations provided by the technical-scientific committee.” Conte also employed pathos by playing on people’s patriotism to encourage optimism: “We are a strong country. A country that does not give up, this is in our DNA.” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used logos to show people why staying at home could save lives: “It is vital to slow down the spread of the disease. Because that is the way we reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time so we can protect the NHS’ ability to cope and save more lives.8

Donald Trump: Defying Standard Forms of Persuasion

Although extremely controversial, Donald Trump certainly has a loyal herd of followers. Many people cite his persuasive capabilities as the reason he was elected, which demonstrates the importance of rhetorical strategies like ethos, pathos and logos.

One of many of Trump’s controversial speeches was on the status of Jerusalem. There has been controversy as to whether Jerusalem resides in Palestine or Israel, and on December 6th, 2017, Trump claimed that Jerusalem was Israel’s rightful capital. His speech was persuasive and garnered agreement from crowds, making it an interesting piece to study from a linguistic perspective.9

A linguistics study examined the Jerusalem speech and concluded that it was persuasive because Trump effectively used the three primary modes of persuasion. Achmad Fanani and his team analyzed that within his speech, one clause related to ethos, which suggested that his position in office meant his decision was unbiased and therefore ‘true’. 50 clauses related to pathos to arouse positive and negative emotions, such as his statement that “above all, our greatest is hope for peace, the universal yearning in every human soul.” 20 clauses included appeals to logos, in which he provided facts to support his decision.9

Although the speech and the speaker himself have certainly drawn backlash throughout his presidency, Trump’s ability to effectively use ethos, pathos and logos might help explain his presidential success and his standing army of followers.

Related TDL Resources

The Role of Thought Confidence In Persuasion

Ethos, pathos and logos are methods through which to effectively persuade people. In this article, our writer Zoe Adams examines an emerging branch of research to do with persuasion, which examines what kind of persuasive techniques lead to the longest-lasting attitude changes. The article focuses on the role of confidence, which is important for ethos, as we are only going to be persuaded by those who can convince us they know what they’re talking about.

What Behavioral Science Has to Say About Energy Conservation

Climate change is no joke – if we continue the same behaviors as we have over the past few decades, Earth won’t survive human activity. Despite the dire need to make change, it is difficult to persuade people to adjust their energy use. This article examines different tactics to enact change, including price and non-price interventions and policy implications. The article also compares persuasion to nudges, suggesting that nudges might more effectively lead to behavior change when it comes to energy conservation.

Sources

  1. Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. (2020, August 8). The Nature of Writing. https://natureofwriting.com/courses/introduction-to-rhetoric/lessons/ethos-pathos-and-logos/
  2. Examples of Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. (n.d.). Your Dictionary. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-ethos-logos-and-pathos.html
  3. Shields, C. (2008, September 25). Aristotle. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle/
  4. Aristotle’s Rhetoric: The Power of Words and the Continued Relevance of Persuasion [Conference session]. (2014, April). Young Historians Conference, Grant High School. https://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=younghistorians
  5. Rapp, C. (2002, May 2). Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-rhetoric/#purpose
  6. Plato and Aristotle’s Impact on Rhetoric. (n.d.). 123 Help Me. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://www.123helpme.com/essay/Plato-and-Aristotles-Impact-on-Rhetoric-314238#:
  7. Rhetoric In Ancient Times. (n.d.). Lumen Learning. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/introductiontocommunication/chapter/174/
  8. Di-Miceli, A. (2021, February 7). Social Rhetoric in the time of Covid-19: The art of compliance. LSE Psychological & Behavioural Science. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/psychologylse/2021/02/07/social-rhetoric-in-the-time-of-covid-19-the-art-of-compliance/
  9. Fanani, A., Setiawan, S., Purwati, O., Maisarah, M., & Qoyyimah, U. (2020). Donald Trump’s grammar of persuasion in his speech. Heliyon, 6(1), e03082. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e03082

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