Rhetorical Appeals: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

I teach ethos, pathos, logos within the first few days of freshman writing, and I always review it in advanced rhetoric classes. Students build on these broadly applicable rhetorical principles to describe specific effects of language but also to show how the appeals work synergistically in all texts.

Ethos, Pathos, Logos Overlap

Ethos, pathos, logos are not discrete non-overlapping elements. All communication tells us something about the author and so includes ethos.  Authors and audiences always possess emotion, even if only neutral, and so pathos is involved. And all commutation evidences some point of view, judgment, or claim, thereby drawing on logos.

Sometimes students ask: if these appeals overlap so much, what is the point of seeing them as distinct?

I explain that the appeals help us understand three dominant ways through which people persuade and three common ways that rhetorical critics talk about texts. They give us places to focus. The appeals ask you to use a certain lens, to concentrate on one particular element and to dissect how it works in a given text.  If you can't first name and identify these effects, then you would have a hard time explaining how they overlap or how the pathos of a line might succeed while its logos fails. It strengthens analysis to show how any one of the appeals may become stronger or dominant in a given moment as well as to demonstrate how they are interrelated.

Reading on Ethos, Pathos, Logos

"The Rhetorical Triangle: Understanding and Using Ethos, Pathos, Logos"

Videos on Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Introduction to Ethos, Pathos, Logos (3:35): Focused on using these appeals in analysis.

Logos, Ethos, Pathos (4:28): Focused on using the appeals in invention.

For a full list of videos I use in rhetoric courses, see "Cold Open Videos."

Group Work on Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Students work in groups identifying ethos, pathos, and logos in the following passages.We use Word’s Comment feature under the “Review Tab” to select the text and label it. Beginning students usually want to select the whole passage and name the dominant appeal, but I encourage them to break down the different parts of the text. I analyze an example with each group, and at the end of class, we discuss the passages, and I write the main points on the board as well as give them general principles that we can take away from the specific selection, which I have underlined.

Mark Clayton “A Whole Lot of Cheatin’ Going On,” Christian Science Monitor, 1999
The Center for Academic Integrity in Nashville studied 7,000 students on 26 small-to-medium-size college campuses in 1990, 1992, and 1995. Those studies have found that nearly 80 percent admitted to cheating at least once. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the more-explicit forms of cheating” and illegitimate “collaborating,” says Donald McCabe, associate provost at Rutgers University in Newark . . . He and others blame poor role models and lack of parental guidance for the growing acceptance of cheating in colleges . . . Add to that a pervasive change in societal values, and students can easily be snared if they lack a strong moral compass.

Class Analysis
  • Students note the dominant logos: the study, statistics, and expert testimony

  • With more coaxing, they also identify pathos in "a pervasive change in societal values" and "students can easily be snared if they lack a strong moral compass." 

  • In particular, we discuss how the word "snared," a metaphor comparing students to animals captured in a trap, brings forth fear. From this example, I explain that vivid language can evoke pathos.

Franklin Roosevelt, “Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation,” 1941
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost...

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Class Analysis
  • Students work through the lines usually naming both pathos and logos. FDR presents a simple list of facts, a form of logos, so I ask students why it also feels like pathos. The topic is obviously a somber one, but we discuss how sentence structure evokes emotion too. Repetition of "last night" creates urgency and "attacked" repeats violent imagery. The anaphora piles on and builds up sorrow and fear. 

  • From this example, we learn 2 crucial lessons: facts can create emotion and style can appeal to pathos. Sentence structures greatly influences how audiences view a topic.

  • I then show how anaphora could be used toward a different end. I ask them to consider a different example that I make up on the fly, something like: "Remove the keyboard form the box. Remove the mouse from the box. Remove the monitor from the box." Here style creates logos through repetition, a logical sequencing of steps. The order in style mimics order in steps.

Ronald Reagan, “The Space Shuttle ‘Challenger’ Tragedy Address,” 1986
We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and, perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers. . . . And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's take-off. I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them. . . . The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

Class Analysis
  • Students often note when discussing quotes from presidents that the speaker has a built in ethos. Ethos comes from your knowledge of the speaker prior to the speech and also from the speech itself

  • I ask them to consider the ethos specific to this speech too: What kind of ethos does Reagan invoke? What kind of person does he want his audience to see him as? I tell students to look in particular at the use of "I"--first person pronouns always tell you something about the speaker's ethos, and there is always an "I" in the text, whether overtly present or hidden. Students usually respond that he seems fatherly or paternalistic here by addressing school children. 

  • I add that addressing, discussing, or showing children is almost always an appeal to pathos

  • Finally, students identify pathos in phrases like "It belong to the brave" or "touch the face of God" because lofty ideals stir the passions.

Andrew Cuomo, Democratic National Convention keynote Address, 1984
Ten days ago, President Reagan admitted that although some people in this country seemed to be doing well nowadays, others were unhappy, even worried, about themselves, their families, and their futures. The President said that he didn't understand that fear. He said, "Why, this country is a shining city on a hill." And the President is right. In many ways we are a shining city on a hill. But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate. In this part of the city there are more poor than ever, more families in trouble, more and more people who need help but can't find it. Even worse: There are elderly people who tremble in the basements of the houses there. And there are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn't show. There are ghettos where thousands of young people, without a job or an education, give their lives away to drug dealers every day. There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don't see, in the places that you don't visit in your shining city.

Class Analysis:
  • Students sometimes have a hard time understanding the difference between the speaker's ethos and the ethos of somebody mentioned in the text, and this example provides an opportunity to discuss that difference and connection. 

  • When people ask about the ethos in/of a speech, they are asking about the speaker's ethos. Naming other people in a speech, though, can affect that ethos. Speakers often invoke other people (each with their individual ethos) to align with or to distance themselves, acts that have an effect on the speaker's own ethos

  • Here, Cuomo critiques Reagan with the effects of making Cuomo look like a relatable common man and Reagan look like an out-of-touch unconcerned politician. He juxtaposes his own knowledge with Reagan's to increase his ethos as the superior servant of the people.

Christopher Lasch, “The Lost Art of Political Argument” Harper's, 1990
Let us begin with a simple proposition: What democracy requires is public debate, not information. Of course it needs information too, but the kind of information it needs can be generated only by vigorous popular debate. We do not know what we need to know until we ask the right questions, and we can identify the right questions only by subjecting our ideas about the world to the test of public controversy. Information, usually seen as the precondition of debate, is better understood as its by product. When we get into arguments that focus and fully engage our attention, we become avid seekers of relevant information. Otherwise, we take in information passively--if we take it in at all.

Class Analysis
  • I use this example to address a common student issue--seeing logos as only facts. I explain to students that logos is not only facts, numbers, or science, it is also well-reasoned and strongly supported argument

  • This example shows how authors support a point of view through careful reasoning. It also uses the keyword "proposition," and so I explain to students that many authors in academic and popular writing will identify their main claim with terms like argument, claim, or proposition, something I suggest they do in their thesis statements.

Class Analysis
  • I borrowed this idea from Anna Hall-Zieger at Blinn College who uses 50-cent to teach students that ethos doesn't just mean a speaker's credibility in terms of book smarts, it can also mean "street cred." 

  • Being an expert can mean many things depending on the context

  • I then explain to students that when deciding which college they wanted to attend they most likely did not consult professors, even though they are experts in the academy, because they aren't usually experts on the things that make students choose a college--social life, family allegiances, collegiate sports, placement rates, or school rankings, for example.

Class Analysis
  • In the Paris Hilton ad, students identify pathos in the invocation of seduction, passion, and sex appeal. 

  • As in the 50-cent example, Paris Hilton portrays a certain type of ethos as a famous beautiful woman. 

  • Finally, we examine the logos in the implied claim that if you buy this fragrance, women like Paris Hilton will want you. We begin to discuss the faulty logos in many advertisements.

Class Analysis
  • One-two-punch of pathos and logos.


Other possible selections

Ellie Wiesel, “The Perils of Indifference,” 1999
Fifty-four years ago to the day, a young Jewish boy from a small town in the Carpathian Mountains woke up, not far from Goethe's beloved Weimar, in a place of eternal infamy called Buchenwald. He was finally free, but there was no joy in his heart. He thought there never would be again. Liberated a day earlier by American soldiers, he remembers their rage at what they saw. And even if he lives to be a very old man, he will always be grateful to them for that rage, and also for their compassion. Though he did not understand their language, their eyes told him what he needed to know -- that they, too, would remember, and bear witness.
. . .
And so, once again, I think of the young Jewish boy from the Carpathian Mountains. He has accompanied the old man I have become throughout these years of quest and struggle. And together we walk towards the new millennium, carried by profound fear and extraordinary hope.

Andrew Sullivan “iPod World,” New York Times Magazine, 2005
I was visiting New York City last week and noticed something I'd never thought I'd say about the big city. Yes, nightlife is pretty much dead (and I'm in no way the first to notice that). But daylife - that insane mishmash of yells, chatter, clatter, hustle and chutzpah that makes New York the urban equivalent of methamphetamine - was also a little different. It was just a little quieter. Yes, the suburbanization of Manhattan is now far-gone, its downtown a Disney-like string of malls, riverside parks, and pretty upper-middle-class villages. But there was something else as well. And as I looked across the throngs on the pavements, I began to see why. There were little white wires hanging down from their ears, tucked into pockets or purses or jackets. The eyes were a little vacant. Each was in his or her own little musical world, walking to their own soundtrack, stars in their own music video, almost oblivious to the world around them. These are the iPod people.

Ashley Davis Bush “Grief Intelligence: A Primer
For the last 25 years, I have worked with thousands of griever. I have sat with widows and widowers, the young and the old. I have offered tissues to bereaved parents in their inconsolable grief. I have normalized, educated, listened to and championed those grievers who, through tremendous pain, still engaged with life.

D.T. Max “End of the Book” (1994)
The quiet hum of the room, the bright white lighting, the clean, flat antiseptic surfaces, give the impression of an aspirin commercial. "It was clear to us that no reader was going to read a book off any of the current screens for more than ten minutes," says Malcolm Thompson, the chief technologist. "We hoped to change that." A large annotated poster on the wall illustrates point for point the screen's superiority to paper, as in an old-fashioned magazine ad. This flat panel display is indeed better than commercial screens, but it is neither as flexible nor as mobile as a book, and it still depends on fickle battery power. A twentysomething software marketer who began as an editorial assistant in book publishing points out, "A book requires one good eye, one good light source, and one good finger."

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