Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

Rhetoric or the art of persuasive writing/speaking rests on three main concepts: ethos, logos, and pathos. The concept of the three rhetorical techniques was first introduced by Aristotle in his book titled On Rhetoric. He was a Greek philosopher who lived in the 4th century BCE and is one of the greatest intellectual figures of Western history. According to him, rhetoric refers to “the ability, in a particular case, to identify the available means of persuasion.” He believed that the three tools which can be used by the writer/speaker to persuade their audience are ethos, logos, and pathos. It is important to note that rhetoric is situated and contextual, therefore, the strategies used are not always the same. To guide the reception of the audience, the author must alter the content and tone appropriately. The audience has the discretion to view a certain piece of writing in any number of ways, as each human being is different and is governed by their respective beliefs and intellect.

Aristotle first introduced the concept of ethos, pathos, and logos

Monochrome portrait of Aristotle

A basic idea of these essential tools in writing is given below:

Ethos: appeals to the audience by asking them to trust the person making the argument. The focus here is on the credibility, knowledge, and experience of the person.

Pathos: appeals to the audience’s emotions. By using pathos in writing, specific emotions can be induced in the audience to elicit feelings of care or concern.

Logos: appeals to the audience’s sense of rationality and logic. It asks them to believe a certain argument as they can effectively discern that it makes sense; that it is logical.

Employing these techniques in speaking or writing can enhance the argument by making it more persuasive. It is also good to be able to spot when these appeals are misused and not fall prey to false notions.

Logos Appeal

Logos is defined as a rhetorical technique that appeals to the audience’s sense of logic and rationality. When incorporating logos in writing, the arguments are backed with solid reasoning and evidence to effectively appeal to the reader’s intellect. The most effective way to persuade an audience is by appealing to their sense of rationality and logic. A combination of facts, figures and strong reasoning result in building logos in writing. Also, the logical connection should be clear enough for the audience to detect and be convinced of the reader’s claims. Logos is one technique that depends the least on who the author is and how the argument is being delivered. In the right context, a reasoned argument is highly persuasive.

The use of logic in an argument can be either inductive or deductive. To understand these terms, look at the basic elements of an argument.

  • Claim/thesis/premise: this is where something believed to be true is stated and it forms the foundation of the argument.
  • Statement(s) of reason(s): that support the stated claim(s).
  • Logic: the relationship between the premise and the supporting evidence resulting in a truthful, rational conclusion.

Inductive reasoning flows from specific to general. However, what may be true for some may not always apply to all. This makes for inductive logic to be uncertain. When we use specific observations to draw bigger, generalized premises, they can either be weak or strong depending on the context.

For instance:

All the swans I have seen are white. (Premise)

Therefore, all swans are white. (Conclusion)

Here, the conclusion is weak as the premise is highly specific therefore less probable to be true for a broader generalization. The same example can be made more credible by making the following changes:

All the swans I have seen are white. (Premise)

Therefore, most swans are probably white. (Conclusion)

Now, the conclusion is closely aligned with the premise making it stronger than before.

Deductive reasoning on the other hand flows from general to specific. It assumes that what is true of a bigger category is implicitly true of a specific element of the same. There are various ways to employ deductive logic in arguments by using a combination of standard truths, conditional premises, faulty premises, or specific ones. The key factor, however, is that in any of these scenarios a logical truth can be derived.

For instance:

All human beings will, one day, die. (Premise)

Anastasia is a human being. (Premise)

Anastasia will die. (Logical Truth)

Here assuming that both the governing statements hold true, the conclusion drawn or deducted from the same will also be true.

If Larry is sick, then he will be absent. (Conditional Premise)

If Larry is absent, he will miss his classwork. (Conditional Premise)

Therefore, if Larry is sick, he will miss his classwork. (Logical Truth)

Here, the use of ”if” makes the premise conditional, therefore only applicable if the given conditions are met. The second premise draws from the first assuming the conditions are met. The logical truth is then derived from the set of premises existing in an assumed manner.

In writing, several examples are collected when using the inductive method of logic. This helps to induce (or lead) the logic smoothly from a specific to a general application.

For deductive reasoning, the writer states widely known facts and the logic is the takeaway from the understanding of the same in the given context. These logical techniques help strengthen the arguments and persuade the audience towards a specific and intended understanding of the subject.

Rhetoric rests on the main concepts of ethos, pathos, and logos

A pen on a blank page

Logos Appeal Examples

A few examples of logos are listed below:

Example 1

The survey itself is deliberately open-ended and flexible because we wanted to give alumni room to respond in ways we could never anticipate, and because we want colleagues who participate in the PWTARP to replicate or adapt our survey design to their own institutions and to their own research goals. We tried to design open-ended questions that would elicit full responses, not too scripted, we hoped, by the questions.

Here, there is plenty of justification provided as to why this research method was selected.

Also, note that the reasons listed are practical rather than emotional.

Example 2

Cats should not be allowed to roam the neighborhood. A study conducted in Lemmington, Michigan, showed that when cats were kept on a leash or indoors, the songbird population rose by 23%.

Here, citing the results of the study in the argument makes it sound more logical as to why cats should not be allowed to roam the neighborhood.

Example 3

It’s a matter of common sense that people deserve to be treated equally. The Constitution calls it ‘self-evident.’ Why, then, should I have been denied a seat because of my disability?

In this example, the appeal to the intellect and common sense is quite direct. The audience will bend towards this approach as they will believe that they exhibit basic common sense when analyzing an argument.

Ethos Appeal

Ethos, in Greek, means character. In rhetoric, ethos implies appealing to the speaker’s or author’s credibility. Aristotle asserted the use of ethos as “persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think of him (sic) as credible. We believe in good men (sic) more fully and more readily than others.” If the person comes across as trustworthy and well-meaning, the audience is bound to pay attention to the arguments.

Any piece of content that employs ethos is persuasive as the audience is willing to absorb the content due to its writer’s credibility. Once the authority of the writer is established, the work is taken more seriously and can go on to create the intended impact. In a nutshell, ethos is how the writer develops a relationship of trust with the audience.

What Is One Way to Appeal to Ethos?

The primary ways to appeal to ethos in writing are through:

  • Good sense
  • Good moral character
  • Goodwill

Some other ways include:

  • The author’s relevant experience in and knowledge of a particular subject.
  • Use of specialized jargon and a professional tone in writing.
  • Solid reasoning and arguments that heighten the credibility of the work.

Examples of Ethos

A few examples of ethos are listed below:

Example 1

I have been married for 58 years, and I can tell you that he will not be a good husband.

Here, we see how personal experience is used to establish the credibility of the argument.

Example 2

A book on women leaders would be more credible and plausible if it comes from a female author.

Here, the nature and experiences of a particular gender establish the credibility of the argument.

Example 3

Having written ten successful novels myself, I can tell you that this book is worth buying.

Here, the credibility of the writer to recommend which novel to buy is enhanced as he/she is also an author.

Appeal to Pathos

Pathos means appealing to audiences’ sense of emotions. Getting an emotional response from the reader helps them relate better to the content. Pathos can be built by focusing on the audience’s beliefs, fears, or shared dreams. If not balanced with the right degree of ethos and logos, this technique has the potential for manipulation and the distortion of facts. Through pathos, the audience’s mind can be swayed in any direction when guided with emotion.

Pathos, in Greek, means suffering or experience. Ancient classical authors referred to violent emotions when talking about pathos. However, for Renaissance (15th-16th century period in European history) authors, it meant emotional appeal of any kind.

Types of Pathos

Pathos can inspire a variety of emotions from the audience. Emotional appeal is far more compelling than the sense of logic (logos) or credibility (ethos). A few examples of the kind of emotions that can be induced by using pathos are:

  • Excitement
  • Fear
  • Joy
  • Awe
  • Jealousy
  • Sadness
  • Pity

What Is One Way to Appeal to Pathos?

Here are a few ways to effectively incorporate pathos in writing.

  • Use of vivid imagery and descriptive language.
  • Adding personal stories to garner the sympathies of the audience.
  • Knowing your audience and focusing on their beliefs and ideals.

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos Essay Example

In the following essay, the three writing techniques of Ethos, Logos, and Pathos are demonstrated, followed by an explanation of their relevance.

Imagine this: a small dog sits in a dark, cold garage. His hair is matted and dirty; he is skinny and weak from going days without food. There is no water for him to drink, no person to give him love, and no blanket to keep him warm at night. While this might be a hard scenario to imagine, it is not an uncommon one in America today. According to the Humane Society of the United States, nearly 1,000,000 animals are abused or die from abuse every year. As a veterinarian with 30 years of experience, I have seen how even one incident of abuse can affect an animal for the rest of its life. As a society, we need to be more aware of this terrible problem and address this issue before it gets worse.

Pathos: The author paints a vivid picture to evoke a feeling from the reader; sadness and pity for the abused animal.

Logos: The author uses a startling statistic to appeal to our intellect. Keep in mind that these three strategies can often overlap. This sentence qualifies as both Logos and Ethos because it cites a reputable organization, so we know the author is using credible sources.

Ethos: The author establishes their credibility by stating their occupation and experience.

Lesson Summary

Ethos, logos, and pathos are the three primary techniques used in speaking or writing to persuade an audience. The premier of these techniques, Aristotle, expanded on these ideas in his book On Rhetoric. These ideas are drawn from Greek philosophy and form an important branch of study called Rhetoric (which is the art of persuasive writing or speaking). The combination of these three techniques in writing is context-based and can be strategized by the author based on intention. It is important to have a sound knowledge of the audience to effectively incorporate these tools in writing. Only then can a writer strike the right chords and produce the desired outcome/thought/action in the readers.

Ethos appeals to the writer’s credibility and authority and can be built by drawing attention to the person’s knowledge, experience, use of reputed sources, and inculcating strong jargon in writing. Pathos, or the appeal to emotions, can be used to induce feelings and reactions in the audience by the use of specific word choices and tones. Logos, or the appeal to the intellect of the audience, can be successfully achieved with the use of facts, solid reasoning, and clarity of thought. It is important to have a sound knowledge of the audience to effectively incorporate these tools in writing. Only then can a writer strike the right chords and produce the desired outcome, thought, or action in the readers.

Join the conversation