Over two thousand years ago, a famous Greek teacher, scientist, and rhetorician, Aristotle, taught his students that there were three basic ways of convincing your audience of something—or at least getting your audience to listen to what you have to say. We still use these concepts today. You will often hear ethos, pathos, and logos referred to as the three modes of persuasion.
These modes of persuasion will probably come quite naturally to you, but having a strong awareness of how to be most convincing to your audience will help you as you write argumentative essays.
Ethos is a way of convincing your audience of your credibility as a writer. Some credibility can be, in a way, built-in. Level of education in relation to the topic may provide some built-in ethos. For example, if a Psychology professor were writing an essay about the psychology of eating disorders, she or he would have strong, built-in ethos. But, if that same professor were to try to write a paper on quantum physics, her or his educational background would provide no built-in ethos.
You need not worry if you have no built-in ethos or credibility. There is also the kind of ethos or credibility you work to establish as you write. By using appeals to emotion and logic responsibly, you can build your ethos. You can also build your ethos by using credible sources. When you use expert research and opinion in your writing, you get to use the expert ethos to build your own.
Most simply, pathos is the appeal to our human emotions. We’re more often moved by our emotions than by logic or common sense, so pathos is a powerful mode of persuasion. As a writer, your job is to make the audience feel connected with your topic. This is where pathos can help. Think about the broad spectrum of human emotions: sadness, humor, pity, sympathy, anger, outrage; these are all things that motivate us. Pathos provides writers with a tool to get the audience emotionally invested in the message.
Pathos is a powerful means of persuasion. But you should be very careful with pathos. Pathos is generally the least respected of the three ethical appeals in the academic community. In many fields of study, emotion is something that should be left out completely. Most of the time, the best advice is to be careful with pathos and use it wisely. Misusing pathos can negatively affect your ethos or credibility.
Logos is the appeal to our logical side. Logos is about the facts we present in our writing and the logical manner in which we present our ideas. Having strong logos is one important way that we can build our ethos within an essay. For example, if you’re writing a research paper on the Plague in Medieval times, you’ll want to gather a good deal of research and then incorporate that research in an organized and effective manner. You should also make sure that your points or arguments are logical in nature, and you should avoid faulty logic.
Ethos, pathos, and logos are all interconnected. When you write an argument, you’ll want to think about how these modes of persuasion work together to make for a strong argument overall.