Ethos, Logos and Pathos: The Art of Persuasion
7 min read

Ethos, Logos and Pathos: The Art of Persuasion

Ethos, Logos and Pathos: The Art of Persuasion

Ethos, Logos and Pathos are the fundamental modes of persuasion. Any great persuasion whether it be a compelling argument, business sales pitch, written essay, or powerful speech uses a combination of these three techniques.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle invented these modes of persuasion over 2000 years ago. The beauty of them is how each one evokes a different appeal to the audience.

Ethos calls upon credibility and authority of the speaker. Logos aims to convince the audience through logic and reason. Pathos appeals to the emotions and feelings of the audience.

The most effective persuasion results when you balance all three.  

“Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos].”
– Aristotle, Rhetoric

Ethos

Ethos appeals to the audience by demonstrating authority and credibility. To establish ethos, the speaker must convince the audience that they are intelligent and trustworthy. Of course, the audience wants to get their information from reliable people whom they can be confident will give them good information.

Establishing ethos

You can establish ethos in a number of ways:

  • Being a prominent figure in the particular field, such as a university professor, business executive, or in general being well-known
  • Demonstrating mastery or direct experience in the subject matter, such as being well-credentialed with degrees or having a personal story
  • Being introduced or supported by anyone from the above two groups established groups

At the end of the day, ethos is all about trust. The audience needs to know that the information you're giving them isn't false, and that it isn't going to waste their time or otherwise hurt them. Thus, people use a mental filter to ignore anything that doesn't seem trustworthy. Your job as the persuader is to ease that filter, to demonstrate to them with evidence that you are reliable enough to give out valuable information.

"Your audience needs to know (or to believe, which in rhetoric adds up to the same thing) that you are trustworthy, that you have a locus standi to talk on the subject, and that you speak in good faith. You need your audience to believe that you are, in the well-known words, ‘A pretty straight kind of guy.'"
– Sam Leith, Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama

So if you’re a speaker trying to say that our education system needs fixing, its great if you also work as teacher or course instructor. If you don't have those credentials, then enlist the help and support of teachers and course instructors to give you credibility. You can also talk about your personal experience going through school, or the experience of your kids, or friends or even your friend's kids! Anything to demonstrate that "I have direct experience in this field, so you can trust what I'm saying."

The final point to make about ethos is that when two speakers with identical credentials are competing, the one who more closely relates to the audience will win in the persuasion. A politician trying to win over votes will talk to the audience about how they are from the same community, middle class, and have a similar style with the way they talk and dress. These are all done in an effort to look as similar as possible to their audience.

Examples of Ethos

  • LeBron James in a TV commercial selling basketball shoes
  • A dentist advertising new toothbrushes
  • Former Navy SEAL selling fitness classes
  • "As a mother of three, I know what it's like to feel overwhelmed and time-constrained"
  • "My three decades of experience in investing as well as my degree in finance make me qualified to be your investment adviser"
  • "We did the flooring in your neighbour John's house and it looks great. We can do a great job for your new hardwood too"
  • "I've been a member of this community for 22 years. I've attended ball games, went to church, and volunteered in our local hospital. Vote today to support someone who has and will continue to support you"

Logos

Logos aims to persuade the audience using logic and reason. We all want to make rational decisions where the pros outweigh the cons, so that the decision benefits us. As such, the speaker must demonstrate to the audience that what they are persuading them with is both rational and beneficial.

Establishing logos

You can establish logos in a number of ways:

  • Well-known facts and commonplaces as Aristotle called them. A commonplace is a thing that is well-known and relatable to most people
  • Statistics and data, especially those from reputable sources like scientific studies. Add an extra punch by putting that data into aesthetic charts and graphs
  • Logical convincing – you can show the audience directly that for what you are persuading, the pros outweigh the cons
  • Using examples, as they are typically easier for people to understand

At the end of the day, logos is all about making intelligent sense. People's attention span is limited and we always look for the absolute best guarantees when it comes to information. Your job as the persuader is to make it incredibly obvious that what you are persuading will benefit your audience in an extremely positive way. You must make the audience see that logically following your persuasion is by far their best option.

"Elementary rules of logic: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."
—  Christopher Hitchens

Aristotle had an additional tip for applying logos: deliver it in a way that your audience reaches the conclusion to your persuasion on their own, just moments before you reveal it. The idea is that you present all of your great persuading information slowly, elegantly putting it together piece by piece. You do so in a way that allows your audience to see the dots connecting. They will love the fact that they were clever enough to get the answer on their own, with your big reveal confirming their cleverness.

The final point to make about logos is that you don't want to over-complicate things. You should give your audience rich information, but not confuse them in the process. People don't like to mentally work too hard. Focus on delivering your message in a way that is clear and concise, yet powerful. Numbers, charts, graphics, and anything that's more tangible than words is helpful. In short, serve it to them on a silver platter.

Examples of Logos

  • A news article showing the rise in house prices with a graph showing the average sale price vs year
  • Your friend quoting statistics from a study about how Millennials are lazy
  • A technology company with a "Features" page on their website that favourably compares their product to their competitors
  • "History has shown time and time again that money brings power, and power corrupts"
  • "Our product is recommended by over 300 hundred doctors across the country"
  • "I'm just saying that if you look at the indicators like EPS and Profit Margins, this stock is going to go up over the next few weeks"
  • "The population of tigers has been declining over the past 100 years, dropping by over 90% since 1920 (with a dynamic map showing the change in tiger habitat over the years)"

Pathos

Pathos appeals to the audience through their emotions. The persuader may try to connect to their audience's sense of sympathy, empathy, passion, excitement, or shared experiences. Emotions have a powerful influence on people and can often be the most prominent driving force behind decisions.

Establishing pathos

You can establish pathos in a number of ways:

  • Evoking sympathy and empathy by saying or showing something to the audience that makes that feel morally obligated to be persuaded
  • Driving passion and excitement by using happy, upbeat wording and media to increase the energy of the persuasion
  • Connecting to shared experiences – thinking of who your audience is and presenting something that you are both connected to or familiar with

At the end of the day, pathos is all about making your audience feel something. We humans aren't all numbers and calculation (logos); we remember the things that make us feel alive. Can you make your audience cry, whether they be tears of sadness, affection, or joy? Can you make them smile from a fond memory or laugh at an amusing pun? It doesn't even have to be a direct thing – a science book may evoke feelings of awe and wonder in the reader if the descriptions and images are incredible.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”
― Helen Keller

Your logical argument will be more persuasive with a good dose of emotion. Logos appeals to the brain, while pathos appeals to the heart. You not only must make your audience think something, but also feel something. Make what you say and show bring them energy, to make them feel alive.

An important thing with pathos is to know your audience. Trying to persuade a group to buy eco-friendly cars by evoking empathy to save the environment isn't going to work when those people work in the oil industry. Think about who you're talking to: where do they work? What are their hobbies? What do they believe in? What is important to them? Ask these questions first to understand the best way to angle your persuasion that will evoke the most pathos.

Examples of Pathos

  • A charity asking for donations, showing the poor homes of those to be donated to
  • The commercial for Old Spice body-wash associating the product with increasing a man's attractiveness to the opposite sex
  • An airline company showing the most beautiful photos of various destinations around the globe
  • "For the love of our families, friends, and all American's, please vote on Tuesday"
  • "Our laptop is engineered only from biodegradable materials so you're saving the earth by going with us"
  • "Our investment platform is made by Millennials, for Millennials. Secure your future today by investing through our app"
  • "It's a beautiful thing to look up at the sky and wonder about our place in the stars. But if you want to see those stars for yourself, join our Astronaut program"

Final Words

Knowing how to persuade is a powerful life skill. The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle identified three modes of persuasion:

  • Ethos – authority and credibility of the speaker
  • Logos – logic and rational of the argument
  • Pathos – emotions felt by the delivery of the persuasion

Ultimately, these three modes of persuasion are interconnected. Combining them together is the key to the best persuasion. Use them together and have them support one-another, while specifically targeting your audience's personality and belief system. Then, you will have mastered the art of persuasion.