If you are like most people, you probably consider your mind hard to change if the topic is about something you feel strongly about. Because this is a common characteristic to possess in society, persuasion becomes difficult. Oftentimes, when people are presented with alternate viewpoints, it can make them feel as though they are being attacked, or they are afraid that if they seriously consider the information being presented to them, it may mean that they have to admit they were wrong about something, which is difficult for many to do. These two outcomes are an inherent part of trying to persuade someone to change their mind, and because of this, the art of persuasion becomes complex and is made up of several working parts. As noted in 3.1, the foundational aspects of persuasion are author, audience, purpose, context, and content. However, in addition to those five aspects, Aristotle identified three rhetorical appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos) that he determined were utilized in order to successfully persuade.
Ethos (referred to as ethics or credibility) is used as a means of convincing an audience via the authority of the writer. This credibility can come from one of two places. A writer can have pre-established credibility. That is, their name is recognizable and carries with it a certain amount of believability or trustworthiness.
For example, the leader of a country is typically granted some level of credibility even though few people under his or her leadership have personally interacted with or even met the leader of the country they live in.
Even people who are considered popular celebrities have some level of pre-establish credibility depending on the topic and context in which the discussion is taking place. However, for most writers, the ethos they have is not established simply by placing their name on the paper or approaching the microphone. For many academics, ethos is determined by the tone, style, and sources or support they use to make their argument. Ethos developed in this manner included two dimensions: competence and trustworthiness.
Competence refers to the perception of an author’s expertise in relation to the topic being discussed. An author can enhance his or her perceived competence by presenting an argument based on solid research that is well organized and logically sound. Competent authors must know the content of their topic/argument and be able to effectively deliver that content.
Trustworthiness refers to the degree that audience members perceive an author to be presenting accurate, credible information in a non-manipulative way. Perceptions of trustworthiness come largely from the content of the argument. Trustworthy authors consider the audience throughout the argument-making process, present information in a balanced way, do not coerce the audience, cite credible sources, and follow the general principles of communication ethics. (Stiff & Mongeau, 2003).
When someone asks, “What right do you have to speak on this issue?” or “What are your qualifications to speak on this matter?” They are asking for character and credibility, or ethos.
When you offer credentials, experience, appeals to shared beliefs and values, or other appeals as “support” in an argument, you are using ethos.
- The proper use of ethos in an argument will offer appeals to emotions, values, and beliefs that
- are shared with the readers/audience
- do NOT hide or obscure the fact that the argument has little to no logical support
- do not unfairly promote hatred or fear without sufficient cause.
The word logos means “logic.” In academic writing, we connect the idea of ‘logic’ to the evidence we use to support our argument. Authors employ logos by presenting credible information as supporting material and citing their sources during their argument. Research shows that messages are more persuasive when arguments and their warrants are made explicit (Stiff & Mongeau, 2003). Carefully choosing supporting material that is verifiable, specific, and unbiased can help a speaker appeal to logos. Speakers can also appeal to logos by citing personal experience and providing the credentials and/or qualifications of sources of information (Cooper & Nothstine, 1996). Presenting a rational and logical argument is important, but speakers can be more effective persuaders if they bring in and refute counterarguments. The most effective persuasive messages are those that present two sides of an argument and refute the opposing side, followed by single argument messages, followed by messages that present counterarguments but do not refute them (Stiff & Mongeau, 2003). In short, by clearly showing an audience why one position is superior to another, speakers do not leave an audience to fill in the blanks of an argument, which could diminish the persuasive opportunity and the author’s credibility (ethos).
When someone asks, “What is your argument based on?” They are asking for logical support. For academic writers, the appeal to logos is derived mainly from our use of credible sources and the subsequent discussion concerning why that evidence supports our opinion.
When you offer evidence, expert testimony, statistics, facts, and other rational “support” for your argument, you are using Logos.
- The proper use of Logos in an argument will offer support that is: sufficient, relevant, and representative of the best available evidence on the subject.
- But rational support of an argument is much more complex than it may seem at first (as we will see when we examine logical fallacies in Chapter 5).
Pathos refers to emotional appeals. Stirring emotions in an audience is a way to get them involved in the argument, and involvement can create more opportunities for persuasion and action. Pathos can be expressed through words, pictures, or physical gestures. Because pathos is employed to specifically trigger the emotional states of the readers and listeners, it is powerful, but can be an incredibly manipulative, method of appeal. Reading in the paper that a house was burglarized may get your attention, but think about how different your reaction would be if you found out it was your own home. Intentionally stirring someone’s emotions to get them involved in an argument that has little substance would be unethical; however, speakers have taken advantage of people’s emotions to get them to support causes, buy products, or engage in behaviors that they might not if given the chance to see the faulty logic.
Since audiences may be suspicious of an argument that is solely based on emotion, effective speakers should use emotional appeals that are logically convincing. Emotional appeals are effective when you are trying to influence a behavior or you want your audience to take immediate action (Stiff & Mongeau, 2003). However, emotions lose their persuasive effect more quickly than other types of persuasive appeals. Since emotions are often reactionary, they fade relatively quickly when a person is removed from the provoking situation (Fletcher, 2001).
- The “Made in America” label on various products sold in America tries to enhance sales by appealing to customers’ sense of patriotism.
- Ads encouraging charitable donations show small children living in horrific conditions, to evoke pity.
Using Pathos Correctly
Whether we are making arguments or analyzing them, it is important that we use pathos carefully. Often, our emotions can get in the way of clear and critical thinking on an issue. Pathos can and should be used to clarify how a well-supported position relates to our values and beliefs but should never be used to manipulate, confuse, or inflate an issue beyond what the evidence is capable of supporting.
The following three TED Talks each address the science and growing body of research that explores the biological origins of our emotional states and what we can learn about ourselves from carefully studying our feelings. While not addressing the techniques of argument analysis and critical thinking directly, we can learn a great deal from these talks about the way pathos is used to influence our choices, perceptions, thoughts, values, and beliefs.
TED Talk Videos Recap:
- Humans are complex, emotional creatures who use their feelings as much as, or even more than, their thoughts to make decisions in the world.
- Even though scientists have graphed close to 35,000 distinct emotions, most people only feel around 10-12 of them with any regularity.
- Of those top 12, the overwhelming majority of people make most of their decisions based on just three: love, hatred, and fear.
- We make, on average, around 33,000 individual choices a day. If the data is correct, most of those decisions are governed, at least in part, by our reactions to our internal states of love, hatred, and/or fear.
- So, if we are not aware of (and at least somewhat in control of) how we process these emotions, anyone who wishes to manipulate us (politicians, advertisers, abusive partners, etc.) can use pathos in manipulative ways to trigger states of love, hatred, or fear to make us more susceptible to a given argument without fully considering the merits of its evidence.
 Writers typically use all three appeals, ethos, logos, and pathos, within an argument because depending too heavily on only one appeal can lead to issues that will hinder the argument from being successful at conveying its purpose to its intended audience. For example, an argument built primarily on ethos might lead the audience to think that a speaker is full of himself or herself, a speech full of facts and statistics appealing only to logos would result in information overload, and an argument that is saturated with appeals to pathos may be seen as overly biased or intentionally manipulative.
Review of Ethos, Logos, and Pathos
- Ethos relates to the credibility of an author. Authors develop ethos by
- appearing competent and trustworthy;
- sharing their credentials and/or relevant personal experience;
- presenting a balanced and noncoercive argument;
- citing credible sources; and
- using appropriate language and grammar.
- Logos relates to the reasoning and logic of an argument. Authors appeal to logos by
- presenting factual, objective information that serves as reasons to support the argument;
- presenting a sufficient amount of relevant examples to support a proposition;
- deriving conclusions from known information; and
- using credible supporting material like expert testimony, definitions, and statistics.
- Pathos relates to the arousal of emotion through language. Authors appeal to pathos by
- using highly connotative language to invoke certain feelings about the topic;
- providing emotionally charged testimony (personal stories from self or others); and
- using figurative language such as metaphor, similes, and personification.
- "Ethos" (except where otherwise noted) was borrowed with minor edits and additions from Critical Thinking by Andrew Gurevich which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ↵
- Borrowed with minor edits from Rhetoric and Persuasion by cwilliams1 which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- Stiff, J. B., and Paul A. Mongeau, Persuasive Communication, 2nd ed. (New York: Guilford Press, 2003), 105. ↵
- "Logos" and "Pathos" (except where otherwise noted) were borrowed with minor edits and additions from Rhetoric and Persuasion by cwilliams1 which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License ↵
- Cooper, M. D., and William L. Nothstine, Power Persuasion: Moving an Ancient Art into the Media Age (Greenwood, IN: Educational Video Group, 1996), 48. ↵
- Stiff, J. B., and Paul A. Mongeau, Persuasive Communication, 2nd ed. (New York: Guilford Press, 2003), 105. ↵
- borrowed with minor edits from Critical Thinking by Andrew Gurevich which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- Fletcher, L., How to Design and Deliver Speeches, 7th ed. (New York: Longman, 2001), 342. ↵
- borrowed with minor edits from Critical Thinking by Andrew Gurevich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ↵
- "Using Pathos Correctly" was borrowed with minor edits and additions from Critical Thinking by Andrew Gurevich which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ↵
- The rest of the chapter was borrowed with minor edits and additions from Rhetoric and Persuasion by cwilliams1 which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. ↵