When planning your next rhetorical analysis unit, be sure to take time to review and extend students’ knowledge of rhetorical appeals, including their ethos, pathos, logos definitions.
While some students will understand the concept on a surface level, for the purposes of rhetorical analysis, a deeper understanding of these appeals is needed.
Quick Rhetorical Appeals Quiz
Let’s see how you do. Be sure to write down your answers and check them at the end after reading the post.
- If I say “The writer tugs on our heartstrings by repeating the image of a trembling hand,” which rhetorical appeal would I be referring to?
- If I say “The writer engenders unity by using collective pronouns,” which rhetorical appeal would I be referring to?
- If I say “The author makes it clear that she cares for her audience by listing the ways in which they have been impacted by the recession,” which rhetorical appeal would I be referring to?
- If I say “The author inspires a sense of loyalty by repeating the words to the Notre Dame Victory March,” which rhetorical appeal would I be referring to?
- If I say “The author’s inductive reasoning in this section should leave readers confident in her conclusion that…,” which rhetorical appeal would I be referring to?
Before we dive into ethos, pathos, logos definitions, I want to talk for a minute about the rhetorical triangle. This is an important concept for students to grasp because it helps them to understand that having effective persuasion is a matter of having all three rhetorical appeals. Balance is key.
The shape of the triangle, with each point representing a different appeal, helps students to remember that the absence of an appeal (or the ineffective use of it) leads to ineffective persuasion.
The inner triangle helps students to remember that everything comes back to the author’s purpose or message in rhetorical analysis. Author’s purpose is central to unpacking an author’s choices, including use of appeals.
What is Ethos?
Ethos = Ethics = Credibility
An author builds ethos when s/he demonstrates intelligence. This can include using important jargon or specialized language to show the audience a speaker is an “insider.” It also includes having background knowledge from life experiences, educational credentials, and/or job history.
An author builds ethos when s/he demonstrates good character. This can include refraining from name calling, telling lies, or making threats. An audience needs to be able to trust that an author’s interest in the topic/issue is not superficial; therefore, there should be a clear history of personal caring and investment. It is also important to note that bringing in other respected authorities who approve of the author and his/her message builds trust.
An author builds ethos when s/he demonstrates good will. This can include recognizing the needs of the target audience by giving appropriate and necessary information, acknowledging multiple perspectives, and responding to counterclaims. On the flip side, if an author comes across as condescending in his/her tone or tells the audience things they already know, the audience may perceive that the author doesn’t understand its needs.
In the end, ethos comes down to the “know, like, and trust” factor. Words themselves are more powerful if the audience has confidence in the writer or speaker.
What is Pathos?
Pathos = Passion = Emotional Impact
Pathos, well-done, is an accessory to ethos and logos without being overdone. When overdone, pathos comes across as whiny and overly emotional, lacking substance.
To find an author’s use of pathos, first look in the introduction and conclusion where he or she is more likely to use descriptive language or storytelling. Look for loaded words with strong connotations that are intended to prompt an emotional reaction.
Pathos is directly tied to the author’s target audience. How does that audience need to feel in order to be persuaded about an issue?
What is Logos?
Logos = Logic
An author demonstrates logos when he or she organizes ideas clearly, showing relationships between ideas. It also means that an author must take time to use credible sources and evidence, as well as reasoning.
Students like to think that logos = using facts. It’s not as simple as that. Logos means that an argument is sound and makes sense, free from logical fallacies which can mislead the audience or show faulty reasoning. Yes, an author must use credible evidence, including facts. However, consider that using cause-effect reasoning or comparing and contrasting ideas shows logic, as well.
Ethos, Pathos, Logos Example
Now that we’ve covered the basics of ethos, pathos, logos definition, let’s discuss the rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as an example.
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Ethos: Lincoln repeatedly uses the pronoun “we.” He shows reverence for the occasion by saying “altogether fitting and proper.” He doesn’t spend time discussing himself at all which is actually helping his credibility and fitting humility for the occasion. Instead, he focuses on the fallen soldiers, calling them “brave men” and their actions “noble.” He shows a sense of duty and obligation to carry on the battle that the soldiers fought to win.
Pathos: Lincoln alludes to the birth of a nation and its intended roots in freedom and equality. He repeats the word consecrate in conjunction with the word cannot, making the efforts of the living pale in comparison to the efforts of the fallen soldiers. Then, in the end, he expertly shifts the focus from the here and now to the big picture, returning the focus to the nation in need of a rebirth and a return to what it was meant to be.
Logos: Lincoln juxtaposes the death of the brave men with the goal of seeing the nation live. He also juxtaposes words with action, showing how important it is to take action for what one believes in. The opening and closing serve to contrast how far the nation has come from what it was intended to be. The birth/rebirth imagery serve as organizational bookends to the speech, helping to drive home Lincoln’s purpose.
There is certainly more, a lot more that can be recognized in this short speech, but this gives you an idea of what a student might notice.
It’s also important to note that rhetorical appeals often overlap.
Lincoln’s use of birth/rebirth of a nation could be seen as all three. How? Well, Lincoln is demonstrating his knowledge of the country’s origins (and his place within that historical context). It also tugs at the audience’s heartstrings, giving both a sense of hope for the future and a feeling that there is an injustice that must be made right. Finally, the organizational choice to use birth at the beginning and rebirth at the end is a logical organizational choice that emphasizes the purpose of the speech as well as the occasion for the speech (both immediate in terms of the Battle of Gettysburg and broader in terms of the ongoing Civil War and fight for freedom).
Rhetorical Analysis Activities
I hope this post has been helpful in adding to your ethos, pathos, logos definitions so that you can feel confident teaching this important rhetorical analysis building block to your students.
I’ve created teaching resources to help save you time and help you teach rhetorical analysis skills. I appreciate your support!
Quiz Answer Key
Remember that quiz alllll the way back at the beginning of this post. Here are the answers. How’d you do?
- Ethos / Pathos
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