Aristotle laid out three ways that people are persuasive: in who they are (ethos), in the emotions they use or evoke in the audience (pathos), and…

Aristotle laid out three ways that people are persuasive: in who they are (ethos), in the emotions they use or evoke in the audience (pathos), and practical reasoning (logos). “Logic” (logos) has to do with proofs such as:


If A> B and B> C, then A>C

If Set A = (1, 2, 3, 4), then the number 2 belongs to Set A.

If AxB = 2A, then B=2

Now, “proofs” and “logic” are wonderful things, but Aristotle knew that most of life is not made up of such concrete ways of reasoning. Instead, we make sense of the world through our subjective experience of it. Aristotle believed that true persuasion through logos will appeal to an audience’s sense of what is believable based on their life experiences. So, instead of logic, I (and many other people) call logos “Practical Reasoning.”

Examples of Practical Reasoning

1. A crying baby likely wants either food, warmth, or to be held. (Cause/effect)

2. The War in Afghanistan is similar to the Vietnam War because they are both protracted engagements with little possibility of military success. (comparison)

3. People washing their hands will help contain the flu epidemic.(Cause/future consequence)

4. Cats like their ears scratched more than dogs. (contrast)

5. There are five ways to jump rope: Double Dutch, Chinese, Single Rope, Tandem, and Skipping. (categorizing or defining)

Note how these reasonable arguments could be challenged by other reasonable people. Logic leads to conclusive proofs; logos does not because it is based upon human’s experiences in the world, not the “perfect” world of numbers and theorems.

Depending upon your audience, the topic, and the situation of your speech, you might use any one of those logos strategies that will seem reasonable. It is the artful selection, arrangement, and presentation of such claims that is at the heart of “logos” for Aristotle and all the other rhetoricians who followed him to the 21st century.

Rhetoric, therefore, defies being a “cut and dry” theory with tested hypotheses. Nevertheless, we can say that understanding the tools of rhetoric, particularly how to use ethos, logos, and pathos, helps us to better analyze many kinds of communications. Even if you aren’t speaking publicly, you can think of ways that a written article or report will appeal to your audience. How will you present yourself as “credible” (ethos). How will you make your topic important to the reader (pathos). How will you present the materials, pick arguments, present evidence, and refute other positions — all “logos” strategies.

Listen to the lecture and read through your materials on Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Then take a look at Aristotle’s own writing on persuasion at American Rhetoric:

Read the entire selection of “clips” and note the different kinds of speaking and their different times and purposes. Note also toward the end how Aristotle addresses “ethos” and “pathos.” Even though he writes about human nature from a different cultural context from 2,400 years ago, we can see how well Aristotle describes what we still recognize as the emotions that might persuade people. Aristotle also makes it clear that a good speaker will understand the opposing side’s arguments.

Now, take a look at a remarkable speech by Charlton Heston. You can also hear it at the American Rhetoric website:

Charlton Heston was a famous American movie star, particularly of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. He almost always played heroic roles, such as Moses, Michelangelo, and Ben-Hur. He was physically strong and convincingly played a circus acrobat in one of his first movies. Toward the 1980s, he began to be involved in the National Rifle Association, and eventually became its president, which he was during this 1999 speech. Use both your book and the clips from Aristotle’s Rhetoric to answer these questions:

1. How does Heston establish his good character (ethos) with this audience?

2. How and why does Heston insult his audience? Who is this audience? What are their likely political views in comparison to Heston’s?

3. What pathos strategies does Heston use with this audience?

4. See if you can find these “logos” strategies:

– Comparison

– Enthymeme – a form of syllogism, with one or more steps left out

– Examples

– Quoting famous people

5. How well do you think Heston uses ethos, logos, and pathos?

6. Is there anything about his “delivery” (Canon 4) that strikes you as particularly effective or ineffective?

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