Pathos, Logos, and Ethos
Most people are able to drive a car without fully understanding how the car operates. Making an argument is the same way. Most of us attempt to persuade people every day without understanding how persuasion works. Learning how a strong argument is crafted empowers us to better communicate and persuade others to understand our viewpoints.
What Are Pathos, Logos, and Ethos?
Ethos, Pathos, and Logos are three strategies commonly employed when attempting to persuade a reader.
Pathos, or the appeal to emotion, means to persuade an audience by purposely evoking certain emotions to make them feel the way the author wants them to feel. Authors make deliberate word choices, use meaningful language, and use examples and stories that evoke emotion. Authors can desire a range of emotional responses, including sympathy, anger, frustration, or even amusement.
Logos, or the appeal to logic, means to appeal to the audiences’ sense of reason or logic. To use logos, the author makes clear, logical connections between ideas, and includes the use of facts and statistics. Using historical and literal analogies to make a logical argument is another strategy. There should be no holes in the argument, also known as logical fallacies, which are unclear or wrong assumptions or connections between ideas.
Ethos is used to convey the writer’s credibility and authority. When evaluating a piece of writing, the reader must know if the writer is qualified to comment on this issue. The writer can communicate their authority by using credible sources; choosing appropriate language; demonstrating that they have fairly examined the issue (by considering the counterargument); introducing their own professional, academic or authorial credentials; introducing their own personal experience with the issue; and using correct grammar and syntax.
Imagine this: a small dog sits in a dark, cold garage. His hair is matted and dirty; he is skinny and weak from going days without food. There is no water for him to drink, no person to give him love and no blanket to keep him warm at night.1 While this might be a hard scenario to imagine, it is not an uncommon one in America today. According to the Humane Society of the United States, nearly 1,000,000 animals are abused or die from abuse every year.2 As a veterinarian with 30 years of experience, I have seen how even one incident of abuse can affect an animal for the rest of its life.3 As a society, we need to be more aware of this terrible problem and address this issue before it gets worse.
1Pathos: the author paints a vivid picture to evoke a feeling from the reader—sadness and pity for the abused animal.
2Logos: the author uses a startling statistic to appeal to our intellect. Keep in mind that these three strategies can often overlap. This sentence qualifies as both Logos and Ethos because it cites a reputable organization, so we know the author is using credible sources.
3Ethos: the author establishes their own credibility by stating their occupation and experience.>
How Do I Know if the Author is Using Pathos, Logos or Ethos?
Pathos—does the writer appeal to the emotions of their reader?
- Do they use individuals’ stories to “put a face” on the problem you’re exploring? For example, using an individual’s story about losing their home during the mortgage crisis of the 2008 Recession may be more powerful than using only statistics.
- Do they use charged language or words that carry appropriate connotations? For example, if a writer describes a gun as a “sleek, silver piece of sophisticated weaponry,” they are delivering a much different image than if she writes, “a cold hunk of metal, dark and barbaric and ready to kill.”
Logos—does the writer appeal to the rational mind by using logic and evidence?
- Do they include facts and statistics that support their point? It’s more convincing to tell the reader that “80% of students have committed some form of plagiarism,” than simply saying that “Lots of students have plagiarized.”
- Do they walk us through the logical quality of their argument? Do they show us how ideas connect in a rational way? For example: “English students have been able to raise their overall grade by meeting with peer tutors, so it’s safe to assume that math students could also benefit from frequent tutoring sessions.” This example points out that logically, if the result has been seen in one situation, then it should be seen in a different but similar situation.
- Do they avoid logical fallacies? A few examples of these are:
- Hasty generalizations: “Even though the movie just started, I know it’s going to be boring.”
- Slippery Slope: “If the government legalizes marijuana, eventually they’ll legalize all drugs.”
- Circular Argument: “Barack Obama is a good communicator because he speaks effectively.”
Ethos—is this writer trustworthy?
- What are their credentials? Are they an expert in the field? Have they written past essays, articles or books about this topic?
- Do they use reputable sources? Do they support her statements with sources from established publications like The New York Times or a government census report? Do they fail to mention any sources?
- Are they a fair-minded person who has considered all sides of this issue? Have they acknowledged any common ground they share with the opposite side? Do they include a counterargument and refutation?
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