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Pathos, ethos and logos in argumentative writing

From huffingtonpost.comThe Greek philosophers lay the foundation for how to convince others, and they called this subject rhetoric, a subject taught to students just like math and geography is today. Rhetoric means the art of speaking (talekunst), but it can be used in writing too. Aristotle drew up three different ways of convincing a reader (or listener): pathos, ethos and logos.

  • Pathos is an appeal to the reader’s emotions.
  • Ethos appeals to the reader’s sense of respect for authority. Authority can be achieved (oppnådd) through show of knowledge or moral justification.
  • Logos is an appeal to the reader’s intellect. It is achieved through logical reasoning.

Pathos

A person just died. Within the last three and a half seconds a person died due to hunger or poverty. This means about 25 000 die every day. There is no question that global poverty is something most of us want to end. But how do you end such a complex, difficult and worldwide problem?

This is an effective use of pathos, because the author presents facts that provoke (framprovoserer) an emotional response (følelsesmessig respons) in the reader.

Homework helps the continuation of class distinctions!

The only way we can fix this is to stop producing weapons!

We have to fight corruption!

This is a less effective use of pathos. The author expresses strong emotions in the From Cartoonstock.com, Paul Kinsellatext, in the hope that it may “rub off” onto the reader… But this often has the opposite effect. The reader might think that “this person needs to calm down”. Strong emotions are associated with irrationality. Rather than using pathos to complement (utfylle) logos, the author here contradicts (motsier) logos, which represents rational thinking or cool-headed argument.

Ethos

Ethos has to do with authority. The use of ethos makes the reader respect you and trust you. The “cheap” way of doing it is to refer to your own title, education or status. Which of these two examples look more convincing (overbevisende)?

A) Nuclear power, despite the risk factors, is currently the best way forward to saving the planet.
Charles Madden

B) Nuclear power, despite the risk factors, is currently the best way forward to saving the planet.
Charles Madden
Ph.D. in thermonuclear Physics
Professor at the Hopkins Institute for Nuclear Research
University of Harvard

 For you, however, the most effective way of using ethos is to refer to the authority of your sources. Which of these two examples look more convincing?

A) Studies show that when fun and spontaneity is replaced with conformity, the learning suffers.

B) Studies show that when fun and spontaneity is replaced with conformity, the learning suffers.⁴
₄ Sean Slade, “Why Fun Is Important in Learning”, 4 June 2010, WashingtonPost.com <http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/learning/why-fun-matters-in-education.html> [accessed 18 March 2013]

Logos

Logos remains the most important way for you to convince the reader. It was the method favoured (foretrukket) by Aristotle. The main purpose (hensikt) of logos is to convince the reader through logic and reasoning.

Students often forget to comment on the facts they present, and tend to believe that quotations or facts speak for themselves. It is by interpreting (tolke) information and explaining the effect of something that you create a convincing argument. You have to draw conclusions from the information you present. Which of these two examples achieves this?

A) Studies show that when fun and spontaneity is replaced with conformity, the learning suffers. Another study shows that most people appreciate the convenience of tablets.

B) Studies show that when fun and spontaneity is replaced with conformity, the learning suffers. Knowing this, it would be unwise not to create an environment where the student can learn while having fun.

To sum up: pathos, ethos and logos are three ways of convincing a reader in an argumentative text. The most important of these is logos, or logical reasoning. You can make your reasoning more convincing by invoking (påkalle) the authority of your sources (ethos) or by appealing to the emotions of the reader (pathos). In terms of order of importance for the texts you will be writing, I would list them in this order: logos, ethos, pathos.

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