The world of argumentation can be fascinating, frustrating, and complicated, especially if you are not familiar with the various different approaches individuals use to persuade others to recognize and accept their side, or, at the very least, acknowledge that the argument holds a mild amount of validity. Whether it be on paper or in front of an audience of people, developing proper argumentation skills will always come in handy when you least expect it, such as in a board meeting with your employer and coworkers or simply a heated debate among friends. In the sections to follow, we will discuss the three main approaches used in argumentation, then narrow our focus to the ethos approach, and list several examples of it.
For more information on argumentation, check out this course on how to craft a clear, logical argument.
Difference between Pathos, Logos, and Ethos
The pathos approach to argumentation surrounds the more emotional aspects of the issue, such as heavily controversial matters as well as ones that audience members may feel most passionate about. The usage of language is extremely efficient for these types of arguments, since a simple rewording of a statement can evoke a more emotional response. For example, explaining to audience members that one car “smashed” into another will elicit a much different reaction than if you had said that one car “bumped” into another. A simple swapping of a mild word for an emotional-charged one can persuade your audience members to feel more strongly about your cause.
While emotionality is the focus of the pathos approach, another way in which speakers and writers use this method is through the appeal to the audience’s sympathy and imagination. The members of your audience may not feel concerned one way or another about your topic, but compassion is a part of human nature. More than sympathy alone, however, the ultimate goal of anyone presenting a pathos argument is to elicit a sense of empathy within their readers or listeners, to the point where they begin to feel as the writer or speaker does about the topic.
Logos, the method of argumentation that surrounds the workings of logic and reasoning, focuses on the more rational parts of the argument, such as facts and figures. While presenting evidence and support for the cause are both of much importance to the logos approach, an argument is nothing without the proper use of reasoning skills. The two types of reasoning presented within this argument style are deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning, often referred to as the “top-down” approach, describes the reasoning used when individuals come to conclusions regarding specific situations from general statements. A very simple example would be, “All men like to fish. John is a man. John must like to fish.”
The opposite, inductive reasoning, often called the “bottom-up” approach, involves individuals using a select few specific instances and jumping to broad conclusions. For example, inductive reasoning would be used when suggesting that, “I know several middle aged women who have children, therefore every middle aged woman has at least one child.” While these types of reasoning can lead to the use of fallacies in arguments, when used correctly, they can work to the advantage of the writer or speaker by providing very sensible reasons why the audience members should accept the arguer’s side of the debate.
Ethos, the approach we will spend the most time on over the course of the next few paragraphs, surrounds the credibility and ethics behind both the argument and the individual presenting it. In order to establish a sense of authority among audience members or readers, an author or speaker must provide proof of reliability when it comes to the topic at hand. For example, no matter the amount of innate knowledge the individual may have about the presented topic, an undergraduate college student is not going to hold nearly as much credibility as a professor with a Ph. D who has been doing research on the topic for years.
In order to convey to the audience that the speaker is qualified enough to speak or write publicly about the topic, he or she must announce or make known the relevant educational or research based background they possess, as well as any other pertinent information. One of the most common way researchers do this is through the short presentation of their own research on the subject prior to presenting novel opinions or theories about the topic. However, if the speaker or writer is already relatively well known, then the presentation of credibility factors may come across as superfluous.
To learn more about how to use ethos, as well as the other above listed approaches, to efficiently present a controversial topic, take a look at this course on persuasive presentations.
Purpose for Ethos
The purpose of the ethos approach is to build a sense of authority that the audience member or reader can easily recognize and accept. Regardless of how well organized and beautifully crafted an argument appears, if it contains no reference to what makes the debater qualified to present his or her side, the piece will fall flat. Credibility is of vast importance when it comes to persuading listeners to accept or even embrace a side of an argument that may run contrary to their own beliefs or values. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon when a commercial for a product is presented by a medical professional or someone of importance in the field of the product. Professional athletes present athletic products, beautiful women present beauty products, and doctors present prescription or non-prescription drugs.
However, another purpose of the ethos approach presents itself when individuals make promises or authority establishing statements through the use of potential future accomplishments. This is most often seen in the world of politics when candidates announce all that they will do if they happen to be elected. This establishes credibility by revealing to the audience members that this particular candidate is planning for the future on the basis of what he or she has accomplished in the past, and will continue to do good for the community if allowed this advanced position.
For more information on the ways in which great leaders use approaches such as ethos to get their point across, check out this course on six shortcuts to powerful persuasion.
“As a family physician who attended medical school and has been practicing for five years, I am qualified enough to advise this treatment, as well as determine it will provide the most efficient results.”
“My endless volunteering resume, years of experience interacting and assisting the people of this community, and efficient cooperation skills work to build me up as the most appropriate candidate for mayor.”
“My lab has been doing research on stem cells for the past eight years, from which I have gained the knowledge of the function and benefit of the cells, as well as the potential harm caused by experimenting with them.”
“I’m sure my lengthy educational path and wide array of awards speak for themselves when it comes to debating whether or not I am qualified enough to speak on this topic.”
“You know me; I’ve helped all of you out with errands and odd jobs, taken care of your children when you needed a bit of assistance, and even came to the aid of a few of you when your financial prospects were looking pretty dim.”
“I’ve been a police officer for nine years. I’ve seen countless murder scenes, assisted detectives in tracking down criminals, and put countless delinquents behind bars. You can trust me to find this assailant on my own.”
Real World Example:
Finally, for a real world example of the ethos approach in action, consult this portion of Barack Obama’s democratic presidential acceptance speech on August 28th, 2008:
“I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.”
If you happen to be planning to use the methods and examples above as inspiration to complete a persuasive essay or assignment, take a look at this course on how to write an effective research paper. Also, if you’d like to learn more about ways in which you can apply ethos, logos, and pathos to arguments in order to create a more compelling standpoint and convince those around you to see your viewpoints in a new light, check out this blog post on writing to persuade.