Many believe that Aristotle’s terms ethos logos pathos are crucial for persuasive writing. These words are Greek, but their meanings are very familiar to us every day.
Delivering ethos is to communicate an ethical meaning or appeal to your character. Logos is the ability to communicate with an audience using logic or reason. Pathos taps into emotions and allows the audience to truly feel the message being delivered.
The good things in ethos
It is a simple idea that speakers will seem more convincing if they are believed by the audience to have good moral character, good judgment, and good will. This requires that students choose their words carefully. It isn’t always easy. To ensure that the speaker’s intent is heard, practice and guidance are essential. Every aspect of a paper, from the fact that it is verified to correct grammar and spelling, will reflect on its author.
While logic is a preferred method of communication in society, many people will not listen to ideas that are too technical. When logos are used, they must be understood by the audience. Aristotle demonstrated this by using syllogisms to present logical arguments. A simple syllogism that was applicable in Aristotle’s day was “All men are mortal.” Socrates is a male. Socrates therefore is mortal.
This truth is obvious but not always true for all logic arguments. The bubonic plague, which was first discovered to be caused in the 14th century by cats, was not yet understood. The problem got worse when cats were killed. Fleas on rats were ultimately the cause of the problem. Therefore, there was less cats to kill rats.
Although it is better to start with the absolute truth, sometimes that is not possible. Sometimes, mistakes are necessary to find truth. The mistake with the cats was the first step in finding the true cause. Most students will not have to worry about the consequences of making a mistake in a paper or speech. Logos must be partnered with ethos in order to give each hypothesis the most integrity.
A young student understands perhaps better than anyone that the truth, logic and ethics of an idea or situation are irrelevant if no one cares. This is where pathos enters the picture. It is much easier to find the right evidence and support for an argument when a student is passionate about an idea or issue.
Ideas that inspired action were sparked by issues like the holocaust or civil rights in the past. Pathos is often what makes a speech or paper more persuasive. These ethical statements and logical conclusions are just words without pathos.
Modern applications of ancient methods
As important as it may be for students to know how to write a 5-7 page annotated paper or give a persuasive speech, the application ethos logos pathos doesn’t have to be restricted. Students are not afraid to say “Greek” when they think of old ideas. The fact that the concepts of the ethos logos pathos are still prominent after more than 2000 years is a testament to their validity.