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A Greek word meaning "character," used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. In rhetoric, the term is often
used in reference to the credibility of an author based on his
or her expertise and/or personal character.
A rhetorical analysis calls upon readers to closely read a text and determine several characteristics about it, including author, context, purpose, and emotional appeal and/or effects. In other words, readers must take a look at Aristotle's three persuasive appeals to the audience: logos, pathos, and ethos. As writers, you'll use these tools to build a convincing argument.
Choosing persuasive appeals depends on the purpose of the argument, but it also stems from audience analysis. Knowing as much as possible about the audience you are trying to reach can help you to determine which appeals are most likely to be effective. Things to consider include the audience's core values, beliefs, and the level of knowledge they already have about the subject you are addressing. Some arguments employ all three of these appeals, while others rely on a strategic application of just a couple of them.
Logos relies on the rigorous use of logic and reason. Arguments based on logos usually employ deductive and/or inductive reasoning. Deductive, or top-down, reasoning applies a general rule to draw a conclusion about a specific case or cases: "All men are mortal. Arturo is a man. Therefore, Arturo is mortal." Inductive, or bottom-up, reasoning constructs a premise or rule by generalizing and extrapolating from a specific case or cases: "Every person I have ever known of has eventually died. I have never heard a report of any person living forever. Therefore, people are mortal."
In contrast to logos, pathos relies on evoking an emotional reaction from the audience. The evidence in a pathos argument is more likely to be personal or anecdotal. Moreover, the success of the argument depends on the author understanding the audience's values and beliefs, and manipulating them.
Ethos works by giving the author credibility. By building credibility with the audience, the speaker or writer also builds trust with his or her audience. Ethos can be used to stress the personal credentials and reputation of the speaker/writer, or cite reliable authors or sources. Writers and speakers who employ ethos to strengthen their argument should avoid attacking or insulting an opponent or an opposing viewpoint. The most effective ethos develops from what is stated, whether it is in spoken or written form.
Writers can pull elements from any of these strategies as needed to make a persuasive argument.
When and How to Use Pathos
Generally, pathos is most effective when used in the introduction and conclusion. You're trying to grab readers' attention in the beginning and to leave them with conviction at the end, and emotion is a useful tool for those purposes. Describing the plight of people affected by the issue at hand might open the paper, for example, and then be revisited in the conclusion.
There are subtle ways to use pathos throughout the paper as well, and you can do that primarily through word choice. Your reader is going to be looking for holes in your argument and will likely bristle at any hint of being manipulated with emotion in the body paragraphs, preferring that you stick to the facts. But by choosing your words carefully, you can make suggestions that have a subconscious effect on the reader. Here's an example:
Though the candidate is older than most who've held the office, he is known to be energetic and active.
Though the candidate is older than most who've held the office, he is known to be spry.
When you read the first sentence, what image formed in your mind? Maybe an older guy smiling and jogging or shaking hands with supporters? And the second sentence? The word "spry" is generally used only for elderly people, so you likely imagined someone slightly different, perhaps a little older and a little less energetic. Since we're talking about a politician, the word "spry," while ostensibly meant to mean "active and energetic," is putting a suggestion in the reader's head that the politician might be a little old for the job. A little sneaky? Well, you might think of it that way, but you can also have a lot of fun building an effective argument using words that affect the reader in very particular ways.
There are countless words and phrases that hold a common meaning for your audience other than their defined meaning. Can you imagine when you might choose the word "backpack" over "bag," or "uzi" over "gun," or "guardian" over "parent," or "paperback" over "book," or "liberal" over "unrestricted"? What are the connotations of the chosen words versus their synonyms?
While the more obvious uses of pathos—in which you make a direct emotional appeal—may come to you early in the writing process, these subtle choices of suggestive words might emerge as you revise. Use this tool sparingly, though, so the subconscious suggestion doesn't become obvious to your reader and therefore have the opposite effect.
When and How to Use Logos
Generally speaking, logos is what people expect in an argument these days. We are a society oriented toward logical reasoning and scientific proof, so you're probably going to need to draw on logos at some point in your paper and will likely use it in every body paragraph. A good argument will usually include both facts and reasoning and may be bolstered by examples.
Consider this example from "Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking," published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.
1. Smoking is estimated to increase the risk—
For coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times
For stroke by 2 to 4 times
Of men developing lung cancer by 25 times
Of women developing lung cancer by 25.7 time
2. Smoking causes diminished overall health, increased absenteeism from work, and increased health care utilization and cost.
Perhaps you didn't need convincing that smoking is bad for your health, but if you did, you'd have a difficult time arguing with these statistics, all footnoted on the CDC website, all based on reputable studies.
If we were including this evidence in a paper about the dangers of smoking, we could decide that such weighty evidence can stand on its own: excessive reasoning might actually weaken the argument. But if we are writing a paper about why cigarettes should be made illegal, or some other, more radical idea (and a more interesting paper), we might need to make our reasoning clear:
We know, then, that cigarettes are extraordinarily dangerous—many times more dangerous than car accidents—and highly costly. Yet, while we've increased safety standards for cars steadily since the 1970s, required drivers and passengers to wear safety belts, and are even considering technological innovations that will mechanize highways to eliminate driver error, we have as yet done little to regulate the use of cigarettes. Discouraged through taxation, yes, official warnings, yes, but direct regulation, no.
The reasoning in the above paragraph takes one of the statistics and explains its relevance to the argument. You'll need to do this in almost every case so that the link you're making between the evidence and the claim is clear.
It can be useful to think of logos as building a case, where your thesis statement is the thing you're trying to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. You're the defense attorney. What would make this an air-tight case? What might be in the jury's mind that you need to address so that they won't go into deliberation with questions or doubts? What kinds of evidence might convince them? Planning out the body of your paper is like planning to present your evidence in the courtroom, step by step. Too much information will get boring and muddle the jury, so you'll want to stick with your most salient examples and most convincing evidence.
The Art of Ethos
In Aristotle's day, ethos usually applied to the technique a speaker used to establish credibility for himself, the "why you should listen to me" portion of the speech. Now, we establish our reliability mostly by demonstrating a thorough knowledge of the topic and by citing credible sources. We need to let our readers know that the studies we're citing are from peer-reviewed journals, for example, and the opinions we're quoting are from people who know what they're talking about.
While acupuncture was once relegated to the realm of "quacks" and "snake oil," it is now considered by mainstream medical science to be an effective treatment for pain. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) website states that, "Results from a number of studies suggest that acupuncture may help ease types of pain that are often chronic such as low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. It also may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches. Therefore, acupuncture appears to be a reasonable option for people with chronic pain to consider" (NIH, 2014). Doctors themselves seem glad to have found a possible remedy for chronic pain. In fact, a third of acupuncturists now practicing in the United States are also medical doctors (NCCAM, para. 2). This once-suspect art is increasingly embraced by physicians looking for additional options for their most challenging patients.
Here, we're bolstering our claim that acupuncture is accepted as an effective tool for pain relief by quoting the governmental agency NIH, which is widely recognized and respected, and by talking about doctors—also well-respected—embracing the practice themselves in order to better serve their patients.
Your sources need to be credible to your skeptics. Most of the objections to our claim, above, will likely come from people who trust conventional medical practices and are wary of trying practices they haven't encountered. This particular audience, then, would be more likely to consider the NIH and a group of medical doctors credible than they would, say, the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture or a group of Chinese practitioners. Part of the ethos of your argument, then, is finding resources your audience would find credible. By extension, you earn readers' respect for quoting sources they consider trustworthy.
Don't discount your own knowledge and experience, though, when considering the ethos aspect of your argument. The introduction and conclusion, again, might be the best spots to tell your audience how you're connected to the topic. If you're writing about school vouchers and you attended both public and private schools, that detail might give you some insight into both sides of the dilemma and, therefore, credibility with your readers. If you're an artist and feel you would have dropped out of high school were it not for your art classes, you would do well to include your experience in a paper about funding for the arts in education.
Your reader is counting on your ability to be objective, as well as knowledgeable. You'll demonstrate your objectivity by using sources that are widely respected and by gathering information from both or many sides of the issue. Real rhetoric is about honestly seeking answers, and while there is some persuasive technique involved, the most satisfying argument is one that is thoroughly explored. In the end, then, your credibility lies with your diligence and your willingness to present your findings with transparency.