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Aristotle Argument Ethos Pathos Logos Essay

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 1356a 2,3

Ethos – Personal Character of the Speaker

The mode of persuasion “Ethos” deals with the character of the speaker. The intent of the speaker is to appear credible. According to Aristotle there are three prequisites that are necessary to appear credible:

  • Competence
  • Good Intention
  • Empathy

Ethos is portrayed during the performance (actio). Originally, actio encompassed voice, gesture, facial expressions, proxemics, body language and movement. Later this was seperated in actio and pronuntiatio, whereas the first is about the bodily eloquence and the second the actual vocal lecture.

The ethos of the speaker is transmitted via his self-portrayal, this mostly about nonverbal and paraverbal (vocal elements – tone, pitch, etc. ) factors. If the speaker uses certain aspect consciously or unconsciously is usually irrelevant for the analysis, since the result and not the intention is the aim of a rhetorical analysis. Thus, there is no general “good” or “bad” in self-portrayal and impression management, cause each action must be interpreted in the proper context of the situation/speech. As a result the words “functional” and “dysfunctional” are more appropriate, when it comes down to analysing once performance.

The influencing factors for ethos encompass elements such as clothes, vocabulary, slang and other social aspects like rank, popularity, etc. These factors effect – according to the situation – the appearance and reception of the speaker. Additionally, the speaker can use statements to position himself, he can reveal social hierarchies, also he can show preferences and distastes, etc.

There is a more profound article on ethos, which goes into further detail and includes two different self-portrayals.

Pathos – Emotional Influence of the Speaker on the Audience

Pathos encompasses the emotional influence on the audience. The goal of each speech is to persuade the audience, therefore it is necessary to put the audience in the appropriate emotional states. Aristotle noted that is of importance that each speaker knew, which emotions exists, how and under which circumstances the can be elicited:

The Emotions are all those feelings that so change men as to affect their judgements, and that are also attended by pain or pleasure. Such are anger, pity, fear and the like, with their opposites. We must arrange what we have to say about each of them under three heads. Take, for instance, the emotion of anger: here we must discover (1) what the state of mind of angry people is, (2) who the people are with whom they usually get angry, and (3) on what grounds they get angry with them.
   –Aristotle 1378a 1,9

The public speaker has several possibilities to elicit emotions in the audience. Yet, it is crucial that there is a basic knowledge about the audience. Typical high emotional topics are value and belief systems, since these topics can vary from audience to audience, it is crucial to know the audience. There are also certain techniques and presentation styles that create or enhance emotions, which reduces the ability of the audience to be critical. Take as an example the technique of storytelling, people react and absorb stories differently than an university lecture style speech.

The aim of pathos is to reduce the audience’s ability to judge. One possibility to achieve this is due to the correct use of figures of speech. These figures can be used to put certain content and arguments in fore- or background. This allows the speaker to increase the effectiveness of the delivery, by either underlining the strong parts or minimize the weak parts.

There is a more profound article on pathos, which goes into further detail.

Logos – Content and Argumentation

Logos is the appeal towards logical reason, thus the speaker wants to present an argument that appears to be sound to the audience. It encompasses the content and arguments of the speech. Like ethos and pathos the aim is to create an persuasive effect, thus the apparent is sufficient:

Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.
   –Aristotle 1356a 2,3

For the argumentation the arguments, argument schemes, the different forms of proof and the reasoning are of special interest. There are two different forms of proofs: the natural and the artificial/technical proof. Natural proofs are those that are based on given data like documents, testimonies, etc. The artificial/technical proof are those that are created with combination of information (hints, examples, etc.) and the art of logic.

There is a more profound article on logos, which goes into further detail.

Bibliography & Links

  • Aristotle: Rhetoric
  • Jowett, Garth S.; O’Donnell, Victoria: Propaganda and Persuasion.
    Thousand Oaks (California), u.a., 2006.
  • Knape, Joachim: Was ist Rhetorik?
    Stuttgart, 2000.
  • Kolmer, Lothar; Rob-Santer, Carmen: Studienbuch Rhetorik.
    Paderborn; u.a., 2002.
  • Mayer, Heike: Rhetorische Kompetenz: Grundlagen und Anwendung (Uni-Taschenbücher L)
    Paderborn; u.a., 2007.
  • Ueding, Gert; Steinbrink, Bernd: Grundriß der Rhetorik: Geschichte – Technik – Methode
    Stuttgart; Weimar, 1994.

Denotation refers to the dictionary definition of a word. Connotation on the other hand refers to words that carry secondary meanings, undertones, and implications. For example, if you were to ask a woman how she'd like to be described from the following list of words, what do you think her answer would be?


The answer to this is most likely the word slender. While all the words carry the same denotation (they all mean lean, and not fat), the word slender carries more positive undertones. A slender woman is graceful, elegant, and perhaps even sexy. Thin on the other hand is a fairly neutral word, and it leads women to prefer the word "slender" as it carries the more positive connotation. Finally, the word scrawny brings an unhealthy, overly thin, or bony person to mind, and women generally do not want to be described in this manner. Over time, words shift in their connotative meanings, and writers should be up-to-date on the current connotations of a word.

The BEST way to incorporate pathos (or emotional) appeals is by using words that carry appropriate connotations. Think back to the sample piece for the claims about fact/definition titled "A Case of Severe Bias"; the following is part of the first statement of that piece:

"I am not a crack addict. I am not a welfare mother. I am not illiterate..."

The words crack addict, welfare mother, and illiterate carry strong connotations. It makes the above statement (while already logical) more powerful. Imagine if the writer used words that carried weaker connotations:

"I am not a person who abuses substances. I am not a parent who needs government assistance. I can read."

Notice how the emotional appeal is weakened. Even though the logical appeal is present, the statement no longer carries the same strength.

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