Three Rhetorical Appeals: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

George H. Williams, UMKC Department of English

"Of the [modes of persuasion] provided through speech there are three species: for some are in the character of the speaker, and some are in disposing the listener in some way, and some in the argument itself, by showing or seeming to show something"
Aristotle, On Rhetoric, 1356b (trans. George A. Kennedy)

I'm going to do a quick explanation here and we'll talk about it in more detail in class. When a speaker or writer (referred to from now on as a rhetor) is trying to persuade the audience, the rhetor will make use of various persuasive strategies:

(If you want to see what else Aristotle has to say about rhetoric, click here.)


"Ethos" is used to describe the audience's perception of the rhetor's credibility or authority. The audience asks themselves, "What does this person know about this topic?" and "Why should I trust this person?"

There are two kinds of ethos: extrinsic (outside what you have to say) and instrinsic (inside what you have to say).

Examples of extrinsic ethos would be as follows: If you are a successful professional basketball player talking about basketball to other pro athletes, then your ethos is strong with your audience even before you open your mouth or take pen to paper. Your audience assumes you are knowledgable about your subject because of your experience. If you are a baseball player talking about basketball, instead, then your extrinsic ethos is not as strong because you haven't been played pro basketball, but you're still a professional athlete and know something about that kind of life. If you are a college professor of English, then your extrinsic ethos is likely to be pretty weak with your audience. Change your audience around, however, and the ethos of each hypothetical rhetor might change.

Examples of instrinsic ethos would be as follows: Let's say you're that professional basketball player mentioned above, and you start to address your audience and suddenly you stutter and mumble, you get all the rules of basketball wrong ("there's a three-point line?"), and you mispronounce other players' names, and you reveal your ignorance of the history of basketball by mentioning teams that never existed. Suddenly your overall ethos takes a nose-dive with your audience, and you become less persuasive. At the other extreme, let's say you're that English professor, and you speak with confidence and reveal that you know a great deal not only about the intricacies of basketball, but also about individual players' records, and the history and origins of the sport. Your overall ethos, which was weak to begin with because the audience was skeptical of what an English professor would know about their sport, suddenly gets stronger. It gets stronger because your intrinsic ethos goes up in the eyes of your audience.

The use of ethos is called an "ethical appeal." Note that this is very different from our usual understanding of the word "ethical."


"Pathos" is used to describe the rhetor's attempt to appeal to (in the words of the course packet) "an audience's sense of identity, their self-interest, and their emotions."

If the rhetor can create a common sense of identity with their audience, then the rhetor is using a pathetic appeal, or a rhetorical appeal using pathos ("pathetic" here means something different than our usual understanding of the word). So if that college English professor above mentions having played basketball in high school and convinces the audience that she or he was pretty good, then not only does that fact strengthen the rhetor's ethos, it also makes a pathetic appeal.

"Pathos" most often refers to an attempt to engage an audience's emotions. Think about the different emotions people are capable of feeling: they include love, pity, sorrow, affection, anger, fear, greed, lust, and hatred.

Let's say a rhetor is trying to convince an audience to donate money to a hurricane relief fund. The rhetor can make pathetic appeals to an audience's feelings of love, pity, and fear. (And the extent to which any of these emotions will be successfully engaged will vary from audience to audience.) "Love" will be invoked if the audience can be made to believe in their fundamental connections to other human beings. "Pity" will be felt if the plight of the homeless hurricane victim can be made very vivid to the audience. And "fear" might work if the audience can be made to imagine what they would feel like in that homeless victim's place. If the rhetor works all of these things together properly (and also doesn't screw up ethos and logos), then the audience is more likely to be persuaded.


"Logos" is the use of logic to persuade your audience. There are various lines of reasoning that we will discuss (one of them you've already learned in some detail: definition). As the workbook puts it, "A logical argument usually convinces its audience because of the perceived merit and reasonableness of the claims and proof offered in support of the overall thesis, rather than because of the emotions it produces in the audience (pathos) or because of the status or credentials of the speaker (ethos)."

I'm not going to say more about logos right now because we will address it in detail on Tuesday.

putting them together

Seldom is any one statment an example of only one appeal.

"As your doctor, I have to tell you that if you don't stop smoking, you're going to die."

This statement combines all three appeals. (One of the lines of argument we'll address in future readings and discussion is called "cause and consequence")

don't forget

Always, always, always think about your audience. When thinking about how best to persuade your audience, ask yourself these kinds of questions: What are their values? What do they believe in already? What is their existing opinion of my topic? What are they likely to find persuasive?

What might work for one audience might not work for another.