Classical Rhetoric 101: The Three Means of Persuasion

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 21, 2010 · 36 comments

in Blog

Welcome back to our ongoing series on classical rhetoric. Today we’ll cover the three means of persuasion as set forth by Aristotle in The Art of Rhetoric. According to Aristotle, a speaker or writer has three ways to persuade his audience:

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; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.

Below we cover the basics of the three means of persuasion and offer a few suggestions on how to implement them into your rhetorical arsenal. And because this aspect of rhetoric is so meaty, I’ve also included suggestions for further reading for those who wish to learn more about each element (I’ll provide a reading list for exploring the subject of rhetoric as a whole in the last post of the series).

Ready to get started? Let’s go!

Ethos: The Appeal to the Speaker’s or Writer’s Character or Reputation

If you wish to persuade, you need to establish credibility and authority with your audience. A man may have the most logical and well-thought-out argument, but if his audience doesn’t think he’s trustworthy or even worth listening to, all his reasoning will be for naught.

For Aristotle, a speaker’s ethos consists of appearing knowledgeable about the topic he’s speaking about and being a man of good character. Aristotle and Cicero thought that a speaker could only appeal to his ethos within the speech itself and that an orator should spend the first part of his speech establishing his credibility. The classical rhetorician Isocrates believed that developing one’s ethos and credibility with the audience began even before the speaker opened his mouth. Audiences naturally approach speakers and writers with some suspicion, so they’ll look to his past for evidence that he is trustworthy and knowledgeable about what he’s speaking or writing about.

A speaker or writer can use ethos in several ways.  First, you can simply begin your speech or text by referring to your expertise on the subject. Share how long you’ve studied the subject, mention how many articles you’ve published and where you published them, and refer to awards or recognition you’ve received in relation to the subject at hand.

A nuanced way to establish credibility and rapport with your audience is to downplay your accomplishments. People don’t like a braggart or one-upper. In some cases, having a highfalutin resume might hinder people from trusting you. A bit of modesty can go a long way to getting the audience to trust and like you, and consequently, be persuaded by what you have to say.

Another powerful way to establish ethos with your audience is to find common ground with them. Human beings are social animals. We have a tendency to trust others that are like us (or at least appear like us). You can establish common ground by acknowledging shared values or beliefs. You can establish common ground by simply recognizing a shared history. You see this all the time with presidential candidates. They’ll visit a state they have no immediate connection to, but they’ll find some story from their distant past that connects them to the state. Maybe their great-great-grandfather passed through the area in a covered wagon. That commonality, however slight or silly it may be, helps the audience feel connected to the speaker, and, consequently, makes him more trustworthy.

Living a life of virtue is perhaps the best way to develop ethos. The very hint of hypocrisy will doom even the most eloquent speech. Conversely, when you are virtuous, honest, and earnestly committed to that which you speak of, this inner-commitment will tinge each word you utter with sincerity. The audience will feel the depth of your commitment and will listen far more intently then when they know it is mere claptrap.

Further Reading on Ethos

  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (available free online!) Read Franklin’s autobiography for insights on how to live a life of virtue. Also, scattered throughout his life’s story, Franklin gives short lessons in ethos building by sharing insights on how he developed credibility and influence with those around him.
  • Win the Crowd: Unlock the Secrets of Influence, Charisma, and Showmanship A professional magician lays out the secrets of building instant rapport and connection with an audience or individual. Who better to explain how to gain credibility than a man who has to convince people to suspend belief and believe the incredible?
  • Good in a Room In order to succeed in Hollywood, writers, directors, and producers often have just a few minutes to convince a studio executive to finance their project. In this small window of time, they have to build instant credibility, or ethos. In Good in a Room, a former MGM Director shares the most successful techniques on how to establish your authority and credibility in any situation.

Pathos: The Appeal to Emotion

Men have a tendency to dismiss the power of emotion. I know a lot of guys who think you should only persuade through pure reason and logic. But in a battle between emotion and rationality, emotion usually wins, hands down. This isn’t cynicism, it’s just an acknowledgment of the reality of human nature.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt created a powerful metaphor that depicts the tension between our emotional and rational side: The Elephant and the Rider.

The Heath brothers summarize it nicely in their book Switch:

Haidt says our emotional side is the Elephant and our rational side is the Rider.  Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader.  But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant.  Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.  He’s completely overmatched.

The battle between the Rational Rider  and the Emotional Elephant is why we see doctors who smoke and are overweight. They know their behavior isn’t rational and that they should change. They’re doctors for Pete’s sake! But it doesn’t matter. Unless they have a powerful emotional motivation to change, they’ll keep puffing and eating away.

Advertisers understand emotion’s power. Turn on your TV and watch some commercials. How many of them use hard facts and figures to convince you to buy their product? I bet it’s a big fat zilch. Advertisers want you to feel a certain way when you think about their product. Take this commercial for Chivas scotch:

Not once does this commercial mention how Chivas tastes or how it is made or even what Chivas is. But even though I don’t even drink, this commercial made me want to go out and buy a bottle of Chivas! Why? Because it roused a bunch of emotions in me. In tapped into the way I feel about being a man who tries to live a good life. And the music makes your heart swell. It’s a perfect example of pathos at work.

What specific things can you do to inject some more emotion into your arguments? Metaphors and storytelling are powerful tools of persuasion. People are more likely to remember stories than facts because stories tap into our emotions. Next time you give a presentation to a client at work, instead of just slapping up some bar charts and bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation, make the extra effort to weave those facts and figures into an engaging story with conflicts and a cast of characters.

You can also call upon several figures of speech that are designed to provoke an emotional response. Here is a sampling of the dozens you can use:

  • antithesis-Figure of balance in which two contrasting ideas are intentionally juxtaposed, usually through parallel structure (“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”-MLK)
  • aposiopesis- Breaking off suddenly in the middle of speaking, usually to portray being overcome with emotion. (Glenn Beck does this a lot.)
  • assonance-Figure of repetition in which different words with the same or similar vowel sounds occur successively in words with different consonants. (“I feel the need, the need for speed.” -Maverick in Top Gun)
  • conduplicatio- The repetition of a word or words in adjacent phrases or clauses, either to amplify the thought or to express emotion. (“So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — yeah, it’s true — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.” -Robert Kennedy)
  • enargia- Enargia, or vivid description, can be inherently moving, especially when depicting things graphic in nature.
  • energia- Energia, the vigor with which one expresses oneself, can obviously be emotionally affecting.
  • epistrophe-Figure of repetition that occurs when the last word or set of words in one sentence, clause, or phrase is repeated one or more times at the end of successive sentences, clauses, or phrases. (“…and that government of the peopleby the peoplefor the people, shall not perish from the earth.” -A. Lincoln)

Further Reading on Pathos

  • Made to Stick Best book I’ve ever read on conveying information in a memorable way. The authors devote an entire section on the persuasive power of storytelling and give concrete tips and examples on how to develop compelling stories that persuade with emotion.
  • Switch Switch covers how to use emotions to create change in yourself or an organization. If you want specific tactics on how to appeal to a person’s emotions, read this book.
  • Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting Written by a one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters, Story lays out in methodical detail how to structure memorable stories. The book is geared towards movie screenwriters, but the principles in the book are applicable to the lawyer writing a brief or a salesman giving a pitch.

Logos: The Appeal to Reason

Finally, we come to logos, or the appeal to reason. Aristotle believed logos to be the superior persuasive appeal and that all arguments should be won or lost on reason alone. However, he recognized that at times an audience would not be sophisticated enough to follow arguments based solely on scientific and logical principles and so the other appeals needed to be used as well.

In The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle states that appealing to reason means allowing “the words of the speech itself” to do the persuading. This was accomplished through making inferences using deductive reasoning, usually in the form of a formal syllogism. You’ve seen these before. You start with two premises and end with a conclusion that naturally follows the premises. For example:

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

Easy, huh? When forming syllogistic arguments, one should ensure that they’re sound. An argument is sound if:

  1. the argument is valid, and;
  2. all of its premises are true.

Alright, for an argument to be sound, it needs to be valid. What’s a valid argument? A valid argument is one that has a conclusion that necessarily follows the premises.  If we switched things up in our above argument, we can make it invalid. Check it:

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

At first blush, it looks like a decent argument. But read it carefully. Just because Socrates is mortal, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a man. He could be a squirrel for all we know. Thus, the argument is invalid.

Determining whether premises are true will depend on observation and your knowledge.

Syllogisms are a powerful rhetorical tool. It’s hard to manipulate and argue against a formally laid out, sound syllogism.

We could go into even more detail about formal logic (it’s one of my favorite subjects), but it would be a series unto itself. So, I’ll stop here and let you do some more reading on your own.

In addition to formal logic, a rhetorician should be adept in informal logic. What’s informal logic? Well, there’s no clear cut answer. Philosophers still debate what exactly makes up informal logic, but a rough answer would be that informal logic encompasses several disciplines from formal logic to psychology to help individuals think more critically about the input they receive every day.

A big component of informal logic are fallacies. A “fallacy is a pattern of poor reasoning which appears to be (and in this sense mimics) a pattern of good reasoning.” There’s a whole slew of logical fallacies and chances are you’re familiar with a few of them: ad hominems, slippery slopes, red herrings. It’s important to be familiar with as many fallacies as possible so a) you don’t use them and thus lose credibility (ethos!) with your audience, and b) you don’t get sucked into arguments with scalawags who use them. We’ll cover fallacies a bit more in depth in a later post. Stay tuned!

Further reading on Logos

Alrighty. That does it for this class. As I said at the beginning, this was a very basic intro to the three means of persuasion. I definitely encourage you to check out some of the books I listed for a more in-depth treatment.

Anything you’d like to add? We’d love to read your insights on the three means of persuasion. Share them with us in the comments!

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History 

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Greg December 22, 2010 at 12:38 am

Great tutorial for instructions on how to hear a politician’s speech.

2 Austin L. Church December 22, 2010 at 12:45 am

Ah, the old rhetorical triangle. I’ve taught these rhetorical principles to my First-Year Composition students at the University of Tennessee, and though they all groaned at unfamiliar words with lots of consonants, they soon saw that the art of persuasion emerges in everything from renting a movie to getting a job.

The only speeches that find their way into the literary canon are those made by men and women who have mastered ethos, pathos, and logos, and whether we know it or not, our dissatisfaction with leaders, political pundits, and even advertisements often stems from a misshapened triangle: The speaker tugs on our heart strings but offers no evidence. He touts his credentials but fails to strike any emotional chords. His logic is impeccable, but he speaks in monotone and has more arrogance than empathy.

Thank you, Brett and Kate, for your concise and thoughtful summary. May we all become people who don’t just say, “This sucks,” but, “This sucks because his logic was full of contradictions, he failed to discredit his opponent’s argument, he walked out on his tab at lunch, he had less passion than a hollow log, and I could have gone to see a Johnny Depp movie instead.”

3 Tammy December 22, 2010 at 1:52 am

Wow, this post isn’t just for the guys. Well thought out and informative. Using this as a reference when I give my next speech.

As for storytelling, is the book “Story” better than “Hero’s Journey?” One could argue that “Hero’s Journey” is the best guide on how to structure a story.



4 Mark December 22, 2010 at 6:40 am

Yet another excellent article – as a Latinist, it’s good to see Cicero kicking around! – with a sound introduction to the appeals, although the list of pathos-inducing figures isn’t particularly useful as few of the terms are inherently pathetic. Nonetheless, I look forward to the article on rhetorical techniques: if Obama can get by with only tricolon, anaphora and synoeciosis, I’d like to see what AoM members can do in their own oratory with an arsenal of techniques from which to choose!

5 Michael December 22, 2010 at 8:30 am

One tell — the more someone insists that they are best persuadable with logos, the more effective pathos is. You just have to know which aspects of their egos to puff up.

6 Scott Wertel December 22, 2010 at 9:04 am

First, why does everyone always have to pick on the poor squirrels. What did they ever do?

Second, I absolutely love your post with its history and examples for application, but it is missing one important clarification that now exists in the English language.
To PERSUADE is to appeal to emotion.
To CONVINCE is to appeal to logic.

If you use numbers, logic, statistics, or other hard data to get someone to agree with your point of view, you are CONVINCING them to do so. But, if you use emotion, charm, and savoir faire without stating factual details, then you are PERSUADING them.

Thanks again for a wonderful post and a wonderful site.

7 Bruce Egert December 22, 2010 at 9:08 am

I earn my living trying to persuade people with my verbal skills and writing ability. I am a lawyer who frequents court rooms, board rooms, closing rooms, and most of all–one on one conversations with people to whom I owe a duty of competence and ability. I almost always talk without notes. This exercise compels me to be ready at all times to talk about the issue at hand by honing in on its essence. Being a good speaker is an acquired art; anyone can do it if you practice enough and employ the correct techniques. Thanks for this and the previous article. They are superb jumping off points for anyone seeking to excel at public speaking.

8 CoffeeZombie December 22, 2010 at 11:49 am

@Scott Wertel I like the distinction made, but I’d have to add the caveat that any successful argument is likely a combination of convincing and persuading.

On the point of logos, I recently read a series of Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, and the story “Reason” comes to mind here. In it, a robot on board a space station (that is primarily manned by robots, and maintained by two humans) concludes by pure reason (this is a robot, of course) that the stories the humans are telling him about having built him and about Earth and Mars and so on are all bunk. He starts with the premise that humans are inferior to robots, and that no being can create something superior to itself. This line of reasoning leads the robot to deciding that it, and all the other robots (this robot alone being capable of such high-level reasoning, as it is the latest model) on board the station were created by the power source, which it dubs the Master. The robot considers itself to be the Prophet of the Master, and converts the other robots to its new religion.

In the story, the humans attempt time and time again to convince the robot through reason that it is wrong. They eventually giving up, with one of the humans pointing out that logic can be used to prove *anything* given the right preconceptions.

As such, very often, appeals to pure reason fail, not because the logic is wrong (the logic may be entirely sound), but because the speaker is unwittingly building his logic on a foundation different from that of his audience. It’s the same issue as, say, two scientists studying the same aspect of nature, and one, an atheist, finds in his discovery greater evidence for his atheism, and the other, a theist, finds in his discovery greater evidence for his theism.

I think a good example of this blending of logos and pathos is this video: George Ought to Help.

9 Ray - Pure Spontaneity December 22, 2010 at 11:51 am

I’m really enjoying these rhetoric articles. Please keep them coming. Thanks.

10 JustinR December 22, 2010 at 2:34 pm


11 Tyler Tervooren December 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm

This is such a great intro to persuasion, Brett & Kate. It’s a huge part of everyday life, but it doesn’t get talked about much or get the attention it deserves because, in general, people seem to associate persuasion with sleaziness. Over time, the art has been hijacked by hooligans who use it to make us do things that aren’t right for us and regret our decisions.

No one realizes when beneficial persuasion occurs because it works behind the scenes and it emboldens you to do/say/think what you already wanted to. Good, beneficial persuasion gets passed off as our own ideas.

This all reminds me of a quote from Seth Godin I read recently about self-help books that I’ll paraphrase:

Every book is an attempt to change people. The ones that fail are called self-help books. The ones that succeed are “just books.”

12 Bruce Roberts December 22, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Aristotle also stated that there are other means of persuasion that are not the “art” of rhetoric…like: torture, coercion, blackmail, threats…what can I say, above all things, Aristotle was the consummate observer…

These things are also used in American advertising with a thin veil of good will over the top of it all…

13 Jeff Karren December 22, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Thanks for the great read! I’m looking forward to the post on logical fallacies. It’s a shame they can be so effective sometimes.

14 Tubby Mike December 22, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Brett & Kate.
Thanks for a great article. I think I sort of understood this stuff way back in my unconcious, probably from early secondary school, but to have it formalised and laid out like this is a very valuable thing. It just shows me how many gaps there are in my knowledge. To be reminded of this is not only informative but brings back some warm, familiar feelings.

I too, am looking forward to your article on fallacy: so much advertising is based upon fallacy that I’m sure you’ll have examples a plenty. Your article on fallacy will be useful to men and women alike. How many beauty product advertisements APPEAR to reduce lines or make your lashes LOOK longer?
Looking forward to your next installment with interest.
Seasons greetings.

15 Edge of David December 23, 2010 at 12:52 am

Bret and Kate, excellent article, I have not too much to ad to what has already been stated but I would like to go more in depth with the topic of “informal logic” as it is a challenging topic understand completely, particularly as it relates to fallacies which in turn are a critical part of informal logic.


16 Derek December 23, 2010 at 12:56 am

Fantastic article. I am going to be holding down my first-ever job next year (graduating from college in 2011) and will definitely be able to use these tips. They were easy to understand and I appreciate the links. I’ve bookmarked this page for future reference.

17 Bill December 23, 2010 at 3:23 am

I love this site and I love this article. I spend a lot of time at work thinking about how people, especially juries, make a decisions. For too long I focused way too much on the logos part of things, but I am starting to discover the power of pathos.

I think juries, and everyone, needs a strong dose of pathos. If they are emotionally convinced of something they are going to want to find for that side and there only needs to be enough logos in there so they can cross the decision river. The logos doesn’t need to be super fancy if the pathos is strong. This is why I think guys like Glen Beck have such huge followings. His appeal to pathos is amazing even though his logos is pretty weak.

At the same time, although I find ethos important, I have heard plenty of stories (and experiences) where a jury hated the lawyer or client but still found for her side, or loved the lawyer or client and still decided against her.

The moral of the story: I have neglected pathos far too much in the past but it can be a huge multiplier in persuading people to make a decision.

Thanks Brett and Kate!

18 Poe December 23, 2010 at 5:35 am

Looking forward to the series on formal logic.

19 Dan December 23, 2010 at 8:23 am

Samuel Johnson drew a nice distinction between ethos and logos, recorded in Boswell’s life of Johnson:

“Nay, Sir, argument is argument. You cannot help paying regard to their arguments if they are good. If it were testimony, you might disregard it, if you knew that it were purchased. There is a beautiful image in Bacon upon this subject. Testimony is like an arrow shot from a long-bow; the force depends on the strength of the hand that draws it. Argument is like an arrow from a cross-bow, which has equal force though shot by a child.” In a footnote to this quote Boswell says that although Johnson mistakenly attributes Boyle’s analogy to Bacon, he, Johnson, had it correctly cited in his Dictionary under the heading “crossbow.”

Of your recommendations, Madsen Pirie’s How to Win Every Argument resorts to such trivial examples as to make it nearly worthless except as a catalog of logical fallacies. A far better book is Antony Flew’s How To Think Straight, which, although noted for its quirkiness, develops real world examples of topical significance in depth. For an application of Aristotle’s principles to writing, there’s Scott F. Crider’s Office of Assertion, An Art of Rhetoric for Academic Essay,” written for college students.

20 Deuce December 23, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Thanks for your thorough detail of man’s fatal flaw. These exact techniques have enabled the following events to bring our society to its last dark days (with help from rampant stupidity and ignorance on the part of the general population):

Al Gore making half a billion dollars pitching an anti-corporate agenda that reaped untold profits for corporations who simply labeled their regular products “green” or “earth friendly”

Hardworking people donating time and money to homeless shelters where people talk on personal cell phones while waiting in line to get free meals

“Change”. Has there really been any? Ask an Afghani.

Hundreds of billions of dollars of “humanitarian aid” sent to countries only to be used to buy weapons (from us, illegally) to oppress their people. Meanwhile our debt spirals into oblivion

Or my favorite: “Education is the key to all things”. All things except not being forced to work for a decade in a dead end job to pay back the cost of your education. The same education which has not afforded you “all things” except the aforementioned dead end job and bill.

I’ll stop here, though I could make this post 7000 pages long. The article itself is great and absolutely spot on. In fact its painfully true. It seems no matter how bad things get, or how blatant a conman you are dealing with, a few kind words, and a soundbite about being a so-called expert, is all it takes to make the average American sell out all of their principles. In fact these same tactics have helped 300+ million Americans destroy the greatest society in the history of the world in less than 100 years. How much more will you all destroy just to be flattered by self proclaimed experts who never deliver in deed what sounded so great in word. This article could easily be titled “how thieves convince you to vote them into positions of power and influence from which they will rob you and steal your freedom.” You know I’m right.

21 David Weiser December 23, 2010 at 7:21 pm

This is a great series on rhetoric! Logic and rhetoric are sadly lacking as a standard component to most educations. I believe that logic should be taught as a mandatory component of any high school education with rhetoric following close behind for any associates degree level college education. My ability to persuade others in my job relies heavily on these techniques and there was not enough formal education and practice in them in my education.

@Deuce: Rhetoric is nothing but a tool which can be used for good or evil. It is quite simply a strategy for persuasion that naturally exists in the human world. This is also why it is important for educated men to understand rhetoric so that they can filter through the bull and find the reasoning that Aristotle was so keen on.

22 Splashman December 23, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Brett, thanks for this article. I’ll be using it (as well as other references) to teach my two girls the gentle art of persuasion.

23 Nick December 23, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Jay Heinrichs gives an absolutely excellent description of these three principles, as well as many other aspects of classical rhetoric in his extremely useful book “Thank you for Arguing”. I came across it by accident, and it’s a great read. Definitely worth a look!

24 Jason December 24, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Another good example of syllogism: “Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man”- JFK

25 P.M.Lawrence December 25, 2010 at 7:16 am

On December 23, 2010 at 4:30 pm, Deuce wrote “In fact these same tactics have helped 300+ million Americans destroy the greatest society in the history of the world in less than 100 years”.

How on earth could they possibly have done that, when that ended before America was even discovered, let alone centuries before there were that many Americans? I do hope you aren’t trying to appeal to readers’ prejudices with pathos, because that will backfire unless they happen to be Americans.

26 Slavi December 27, 2010 at 4:59 am

I’ve found the following to be a good book on fallacies (and decision-making in general). It covers a bit of many things (basics of negotiations, fallacies, bounded ethicality, etc.):

27 Erik December 28, 2010 at 5:18 pm

This article on rhetoric has been one of my favorite on your site so far, keep up the good work!

28 Matt December 29, 2010 at 6:08 am

A quick comment to thank the authors and AoM for this series. Really, really enjoying it, and certainly appreciate your efforts. Look forward to the next instalment.

29 Bob Stuart January 1, 2011 at 12:23 am

Thanks – Nice article, and dealing with questions I’d chewed on alone before.
My own discovery in the art of persuasion concerns how to hand out handbills on the street. Too often, I found, a bunch of pedestrians, released by a traffic light, would all either accept or refuse a leaflet, based on whether the first person took one. So, whenever a leaflet is refused, I return it to the bottom of the stack, and deal off a fresh one to the next person. Often, the remaining bunch will then accept them too. The switch sometimes has to be done almost magician-fast, but that one trick moves 50% more leaflets. People will even queue up a bit and wait a second or so if everybody ahead of them is getting a leaflet.

30 Leo January 1, 2011 at 6:49 am

Firstly, let me compliment on the article.

In modern times, another tool for persuasion has been added: mythos. Along with authority (ethos), logos (logic) and pathos (emotions), knowing your audience well and how your point integrates with their cultural, moral and value systems adds the ultimate tool for persuasion. Writing narratives that are culturally applicable will make your points effective.

31 Frank January 1, 2011 at 8:24 am

The problem with pathos is that the truth-value of a proposition has nothing to do with emotion. It’s quite true that people are often hoodwinked by an appeal to emotion, but being persuaded by emotion is simply a result of sloppy thinking. Frankly, such arguments are manipulative insofar as they have little regard for conveying truth and are more concerned with “winning” the audience. I’m not suggesting we’re not all susceptible to an appeal to emotion at one time or another (since we are not, after all, Vulcans), but those who advocate the use of pathos are a bit hypocritical insofar as they would, on the one hand, encourage its use for rhetorical purposes, and then, on the other hand, and in contradictory manner, warn others of falling for such a fallacy. Well, which is it? If we’re to be clear thinkers and avoid falling for such manipulative devices, why is it ethical to manipulate others with emotional arguments?

32 Frank January 1, 2011 at 8:52 am

Incidentally, it’s not irrational for doctors to smoke or be overweight. It may be foolish to smoke or eat poorly, but poor health habits do not exhibit logical contradictions or fallacies, precisely because external behavior is not the property of an argument.

33 Andrew January 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Absolutely fantastic article Brett and Kay, just when I think I’ve seen the best article I’ll ever see on this site I see another one that tops it.

I would like to submit one comment towards the gentlemen calling himself ‘Deuce’ who posted on December 23rd:

You obviously love your country and want the best for this world, and I truly respect that… but please stop quoting Glen Beck or whatever paranoid conspriacy theorist that has brain-washed you. I’m a little surprised your post did not include the phrase ‘liberal media.’

I certainly do not want to turn this forum into a left-vs-right political argument, but for the record, I am a moderate who proudly voted for our current President. I voted for him because of the Logos in his speeches, not the Ethos or Pathos in them. I followed the last presidential race very closely, and was shocked to hear so much sound reason and logic in the words of the man that is now our President. This was a nice change from the 8 years prior, in which we had to listen to a Command in Chief who could barely manage Ethos or Pathos, and had almost no Logos in anything he said.

34 Jasanna January 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I love that you are bringing this back. More people need to learn rhetoric, including myself!! It can help you in everyday circumstances as well as in professional ones. As a homeschooler, growing up, we had to take a logic class. That was a ridiculously difficult class, but one that helped me to see fallacies in my own reasoning!

35 sean January 17, 2011 at 9:54 pm

What a great article with some really clear and relevant points. Rhetoric is making a comeback!

36 Jon March 4, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Anyone know of a ranked list of the forms of substantiation (e.g. strongest to weakest)? For example, testimony of a credible witness ranks higher than analogy.

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