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Persuasive Techniques: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

Persuasive Techniques: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

Ethos, Pathos and Logos are modes of persuasion used to convince audiences. They are also referred to as the three artistic proofs (Aristotle coined the terms), and are all represented by Greek words.

You may be surprised to learn that much of your life consists of constructing arguments. If you ever plead a case to your parents -- in order to extend your curfew, or to get a new gadget, for example -- you are using persuasive strategies.

When you discuss music with friends, and agree or disagree with them about the merits of one singer compared to another, you are also using strategies for persuasion.

Here's a surprise: when you engage in these "arguments" with your parents and friends, you are instinctively using ancient strategies for persuasion that were identified by the Greek philosopher Aristotle a few thousand years ago!

Aristotle called his ingredients for persuasion ethos, logos, and pathos.

Persuasion Tactics and Homework

When you write a research paper, write a speech, or participate in a debate, you also use the persuasion strategies mentioned above. You come up with an idea (a thesis) and then construct an argument to convince readers that your idea is sound. You should become familiar with ethos, pathos, and logos for two reasons. First, you need to develop your own skills at crafting a good argument, so that others will take you seriously. Secondly, you must develop the ability to identify a really weak argument, stance, claim, or position when you see or hear it.

Ethos or the ethical appeal, means to convince an audience of the author’s credibility or character.

An author would use ethos to show to his audience that he is a credible source and is worth listening to. Ethos is the Greek word for “character.” The word “ethic” is derived from ethos.

Ethos can be developed by choosing language that is appropriate for the audience and topic (also means choosing proper level of vocabulary), making yourself sound fair or unbiased, introducing your expertise or pedigree, and by using correct grammar and syntax.

Ethos refers to the credibility of the person posing the argument or stating the facts.

The facts provided by the American Lung Association are probably more persuasive than those provided by fan pages, since the American Lung Association has been around for more than 100 years. At first glance, you might think that your own credibility is out of your control when it comes to posing academic arguments-but that is wrong!

Even if you write an academic paper on a topic that is outside your area of expertise, you can improve your credibility (persuade through ethos) as a researcher by coming across as a professional--by citing credible sources and making your writing error-free and concise.

Ethos: The Writer’s Character or Image

The Greek word ethos is related to our word ethics or ethical, but a more accurate modern translation might be “image.” Aristotle uses ethos to refer to the speaker’s character as it appears to the audience. Aristotle says that if we believe that a speaker has good sense, good moral character, and goodwill, we are inclined to believe what that speaker says. Today we might add that a speaker should also appear to have the appropriate expertise or authority to speak knowledgeably about the subject matter. Ethos is often the first thing we notice, so it creates the first impression that influences how we perceive the rest. Ethos is an important factor in advertising, both for commercial products and in politics. For example, when an actor in a pain reliever commercial puts on a doctor’s white coat, the advertisers are hoping that wearing this coat will give the actor the authority to talk persuasively about medicines. Of course, in this particular instance the actor’s ethos is a deceptive illusion, but the character, background, and authority of the speaker or writer can be a legitimate factor in determining whether we find him or her credible.

A writer’s ethos is created largely by word choice and style. Student writers often have a problem with ethos because they are asked to write research papers, reports, and other types of texts as if they have authority to speak persuasively, when in fact they are newcomers to the subject matter and the discourse community. Sometimes students try to create an academic image for themselves by using a thesaurus to find difficult and unusual words to sprinkle throughout their texts. Unfortunately, this sort of effort usually fails, because it is difficult to use a word correctly that you have not heard or read in context many times.

Sometimes a writer or speaker will use what is called an ad hominem argument, an argument “against the man.” In this strategy, the writer attacks the character or personality of the speaker instead of attacking the substance of his or her position. This kind of argument is usually considered to be a logical fallacy, but it can be very effective and is quite common in politics. This type of argument undermines a speaker or writer’s ethos. When you are writing a paper, consider the following questions.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What kind of image do you want to project to your audience?
  2. What can you do to help project this image?
  3. What words or ideas do you want to avoid in order not to harm your image?
  4. What effect do misspelled words and grammatical errors have on your image?

Pathos or the emotional appeal means to persuade an audience by appealing to their emotions.

Authors use pathos to invoke sympathy from an audience; to make the audience feel what what the author wants them to feel. A common use of pathos would be to draw pity from an audience. Another use of pathos would be to inspire anger from an audience; perhaps in order to prompt action. Pathos is the Greek word for both “suffering” and “experience.” The words empathy and pathetic are derived from pathos.

Pathos can be developed by using meaningful language, emotional tone, emotion evoking examples, stories of emotional events, and implied meanings.

Pathos refers to appealing to a person by influencing their emotions. Pathos is involved in the strategy of convincing the audience by invoking feelings through their own imaginations.

You probably appeal through pathos when you try to convince your parents of something. Consider this statement:

"Mom, there is clear evidence that cell phones save lives in emergency situations."

While that statement is true, the real power lies in the emotions that you will likely invoke in your parent. What mother wouldn't envision a broken-down automobile perched by the side of a busy highway upon hearing that statement?

Emotional appeals are extremely effective, but they can be tricky.

There may or may not be a place for pathos in your research paper. For example, you may be writing an argument essay about the death penalty.

Ideally, your paper should contain a logical argument. You should appeal to logos by including statics to support your view-such as data that suggests that the death penalty does/does not cut down on crime (there's plenty of research both ways).

Pathos: The Emotions of the Audience

Most of us think that we make our decisions based on rational thought. However, Aristotle points out that emotions such as anger, pity, fear, and their opposites, powerfully influence our rational judgments. Due to this fact, much of our political discourse and much of the advertising we experience is directed toward moving our emotions.

Anger is a very powerful motivating force. Aristotle says that if we want to make an audience angry we need to know three things: 1) the state of mind of angry people, 2) who the people are that this audience usually gets angry at, and 3) on what grounds this audience gets angry at those people. While the actual causes of a war may be economic or political, and thus related to logos, the mobilization of a people or a nation to war inevitably consists of appeals to pathos. Leaders mobilize their followers to go to war by reminding them of their historical grievances against other groups or nations, blaming other groups for economic difficulties, and focusing on perceived insults, crimes, and atrocities committed against their own citizens by others. In the twentieth century, such appeals to pathos inspired the Holocaust in Germany, genocide in Rwanda, and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. Individuals were inspired through pathos to attack, rape, or kill neighbors who had lived near them all their lives, simply because of their ethnicity or religion.

Many political decisions have an emotional motivation. For example, when a gunman with an assault rifle shot up a schoolyard full of children, people were suddenly interested in banning such weapons. In this case, several emotions are involved, but perhaps the strongest one is pity for the small children and their families. The logical arguments for banning or not banning assault rifles had not changed at all, but people were emotionally engaged with the issue after this event and wanted to do something. Of course, not all appeals to pathos result in violence or political action. Advertisements for consumer goods often aim at making us insecure about our attractiveness or social acceptability and then offer a remedy for this feeling in the form of a product. This is a common strategy for selling mouthwash, toothpaste, chewing gum, clothing, and even automobiles.

Appeals to the emotions and passions are often very effective and are very common in our society. Such appeals are not always false or illegitimate. It is natural to feel strong emotions about tragedies, victories, and other powerful events as well as about one’s own image and identity. You may find it effective to use pathos in your own writing.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Can you think of an advertisement for a product or a political campaign that uses your emotions to persuade you to believe something? Describe it, and analyze how it works.
  2. When do you think it is unfair or deceptive to try to use emotions to persuade people?
  3. Have you ever made a decision based on your feelings that you regretted later?
  4. Did emotions ever serve you well in making a decision?

But you may also use pathos by interviewing someone who witnessed an execution (on the anti-death penalty side) or someone who found closure when a criminal was executed (on the pro-death penalty side).

Generally, however, academic papers should employ appeals to emotions pretty sparingly. A long paper that is purely based on emotions is not considered very professional!

Even when you are writing about an emotionally-charged, controversial issue like the death penalty, you can't write a paper that is all emotion and opinion. The teacher, in that circumstance, will likely assign a failing grade because you haven't provided a sound (logical) argument.

You need logos!

Logos or the appeal to logic, means to convince an audience by use of logic or reason.

To use logos would be to cite facts and statistics, historical and literal analogies, and citing certain authorities on a subject. Logos is the Greek word for “word,” however the true definition goes beyond that, and can be most closely described as “the word or that by which the inward thought is expressed, Lat. oratio; and, the inward thought itself, Lat. Ratio. The word “logic” is derived from logos.

Logos can be developed by using advanced, theoretical or abstract language, citing facts (very important), using historical and literal analogies, and by constructing logical arguments.

Logos refers to an appeal to reason based on logic. Logical conclusions come from assumptions and decisions derived from weighing a collection of solid facts and statistics. Academic arguments (research papers) rely on logos.

An example of an argument that relies on logos is the argument that smoking is harmful based on the evidence that "Cigarette smoke contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer."

Notice that the statement above uses specific numbers. Numbers are sound and logical.

An everyday example of an appeal to logos is the argument that Lady Gaga was more popular than Justin Bieber in 2011 because Gaga's fan pages collected ten million more Facebook fans than Bieber's.

As a researcher, your job is to find statistics and other facts to back up your claims. When you do this, you are appealing to your audience with logic-or logos.

Logos: Logical Arguments

In our society, logic and rationality are highly valued and this type of persuasive strategy is usually privileged over appeals to the character of the speaker or to the emotions of the audience. However, formal logic and scientific reasoning are usually not appropriate for general audiences, so we must rely on a more rhetorical type of reasoning.

For Aristotle, formal arguments are based on what he calls syllogisms. This is reasoning that takes the form:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

However, Aristotle notes that in ordinary speaking and writing we often use what he calls a rhetorical syllogism or an enthymeme. This is an argument in which some of the premises or assertions remain unstated or are simply assumed. For example, no one in ordinary life would think that Socrates could be immortal. We would simply assume that Socrates could be killed or that he would die of natural causes after a normal lifespan. As a result, we can logically say the following: Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal. Not all assumptions are as obvious as this one, however.

For example, when the bubonic plague swept through Europe and parts of Asia in the 14th century, killing as much as three quarters of the population in less than 20 years, it was not known how the disease was spread. At one point, people thought that the plague was spread by cats. If one assumes that cats spread the disease, the obvious solution to the problem is to eliminate the cats, and so people began killing cats on sight. However, we now know that the plague is spread by fleas which live on rats. Because cats kill rats, killing off the cat population led to an increase in the rat population, a corresponding increase in plague carrying fleas, and thus an increase in cases of plague in humans. Killing off the cats was a logical solution to the problem of plague, but it was based on a faulty assumption.

Rhetorical arguments are often based on probabilities rather than certain truth. The people of medieval Europe really had no way to determine what the real cause of the plague was, but they felt that they had to do something about it, and the cat hypothesis seemed probable to them. Unfortunately, this is true of many of the problems we face even today. We cannot know with absolute certainty what the real solution is, yet we must act anyway.

Persuasion, to a large extent, involves convincing people to accept our assumptions as probably true and to take appropriate action. Similarly, exposing questionable assumptions in someone else’s argument is an effective means for preparing the audience to accept your own contrary position.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Imagine some arguments that start from faulty assumptions, such as “If pigs could fly,” or “If money grew on trees.” What would be some of the logical consequences?
  2. Do you think that logical arguments are a better support for a position than arguments that are based on authority or character? In other words, would you support a policy just because a celebrity or an important expert supported it?
  3. Can you think of a time when you successfully used a logical argument to persuade someone of something? What was it?

Examples of Ethos, Logos and Pathos:

Example of Ethos:

"I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future."

Democratic Presidential Candidate Acceptance Speech by Barack Obama. August 28th, 2008.

Example of Pathos:

"I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed."

I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr. August 28th, 1963.

Example of Logos:

"However, although private final demand, output, and employment have indeed been growing for more than a year, the pace of that growth recently appears somewhat less vigorous than we expected. Notably, since stabilizing in mid-2009, real household spending in the United States has grown in the range of 1 to 2 percent at annual rates, a relatively modest pace. Households' caution is understandable. Importantly, the painfully slow recovery in the labor market has restrained growth in labor income, raised uncertainty about job security and prospects, and damped confidence. Also, although consumer credit shows some signs of thawing, responses to our Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices suggest that lending standards to households generally remain tight."

Information adapted from the following webpages:





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