Persuasion tip #5: Ethos, Pathos and Logos

Back to Aristotle via the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). It makes sense that if this guy spent his time debating his theories in public and many of those theories went on to be very popular, that he knew something about being persuasive.

Apparently Aristotle identified three main streams of persuasive speech or rhetoric – Ethos, Logos and Pathos.

Ethos is an appeal to the audience on the character of the speaker. Something akin to the appeal to authority we discussed in persuasion tip #4. An example would be the RPI about us page which states that they have been around for 2 centuries  providing education of “undisputed intellectual rigor”. Something tells me that this would have limited effect unless the audience already has some knowledge of the speakers credibility. This post appeals to the authority of Aristotle in order to persuade you that these points are actually facts and are helpful and useful!

Logos is an appeal based on logic or reason. Not something we see much of these days! The more typical public arguments are dressed up as logic or reason but are far from it. For example, Andrew Forrester (major shareholder and creator of Fortescue Metals) has been aggressively lobbying against the mining tax proposed by the labour government on the grounds it will cripple the mining industry. Apparent logic behind his argument is that the increased tax burden will cause a huge dent in private investment. Yet an AFR article has found Forrester hasn’t paid a red cent in corporate tax in the last 16 years.

Pathos is an appeal to emotions and is consistent with Persuasion tip #3 to empathise with your audience. However, appealing to emotion can run much deeper than just getting the audience to like you, it could appeal to your sense of desire, your sense of insecurity or fear, your sense of sympathy and any other emotional triggers you can think of. For example, George Bush II, John Howard and Tony Blair appealed to the their respective citizens fear of weapons of mass destruction and hatred of the Taliban after September 11 in order to obtain approval for the war on Iraq.

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