Michael Callaway at Mesa Community College offers this really good summary of Aristotle’s three elements of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. As a composition teacher, he focuses on the ways you can use language (as opposed to your physical appearance, facial expressions, etc.) to develop these three elements. Good advice for writers and speakers!

Remember: understanding ethos, pathos, and logos isn’t just about helping you be more persuasive. If you can identify how other speakers use Aristotle’s tools, you can recognize when others’ efforts to persuade you are based more on emotion and character and less on logic and evidence.

Ethos, pathos, and logos are all tools. Conscientious speakers (that means you!!!) use those tools skillfully and honestly to craft strong, responsible arguments. Less scrupulous speakers can abuse these tools for selfish and immoral ends. Hitler was a master of ethos, pathos, and logos. Corporations build ethos by engaging in expensive public relations campaigns, while their corporate charters still demand that they act strictly in the interest of increasing their investors’ stock dividends. Crafty spin doctors can misuse statistics in a multitude of ways.

Think of good persuasion like good driving: You’re a good driver. You will always follow the rules. But because not everyone is a responsible driver, you have to make yourself an even better driver: drive defensively, watch out for crazy drivers, and respond quickly and confidently to keep someone else from pulling you into an accident.

Persuade defensively. Use ethos, pathos, and logos responsibly. Watch out for crazy persuaders. And when someone misuses ethos, pathos, and logos, don’t let them drag you—or your polis—into a wreck.

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