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Why You Should Teach Ethos, Logos, Pathos to Students

By The Room 241 Team October 27, 2012

Many people believe that ethos logos pathos, terms first coined by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, is a crucial component for developing persuasive writing skills. While these are Greek words, their meanings are familiar in our everyday lives.

To deliver ethos means to have an ethical meaning and appeal to one’s character. Logos means to connect to an audience through the use of logic or reason. Pathos taps into the emotions of the audience, and helps them truly experience the message that is being brought forth.

The good in ethos

The basic idea is that if the audience believes a speaker has a good moral character, good sense and good will, they will be more believable. In order to achieve this, a student’s words must be chosen carefully, which is not always an easy task. Practice and guidance are required to assure that the intent of the speaker comes through. Any paper will reflect on its writer through everything from properly verifying facts to using correct grammar and spelling.

Relating to logic

Although society favors logic, there are still many who will tune out ideas that sound overly technical. Therefore, when logos is used, it must be used in a way that an audience can relate to. To demonstrate this, Aristotle presented logical arguments by using syllogisms. A simple syllogism applicable to Aristotle’s time was: “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.”

While this truth is obvious, it is not always the case for all logical arguments. In the 14th century, the bubonic plague was first believed to be caused by cats. However, when cats were killed, the problem worsened. Ultimately, the source of the problem was fleas on rats, so having fewer cats to kill the rats caused the situation to worsen.

While beginning with an absolute truth is preferable, it is not always practical. At times, errors are necessary in order to find truth, and the mistake about the cats was the first step to finding the true cause of the plague. For most students writing a paper or a speech, the consequences of starting with a faulty assumption will not be so severe. Still logos needs to partner with ethos to give each hypothesis as much integrity as possible.

Making it matter

Perhaps no one understands better than a young student that all the truth, logic, and ethical “rightness” of an idea or situation is unimportant if nobody cares. Here is where pathos comes into play. When a student has passion for an issue or idea, it is easier to find proper evidence and logical support for an argument.

In the past, issues such as the holocaust and civil rights fueled ideas that led to action. Often, it is pathos that can make a paper or speech more persuasive. Without pathos, these ethical assertions and logical conclusions become mere words.

Ancient methods, modern applications

Of course, as important as it is for students to learn how to write their annotated 5-7 page paper or how to give an effective speech, the application of ethos logos pathos does not need to be constricted. It is not uncommon for students to think “Greek” and conclude that the ideas may be old and outdated. But, the fact that the concepts of ethos logos pathos have remained prominent for more than 2000 years lends testament to their validity.

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