Last Updated 10 Aug 2020

Ethos, Pathos, Logos: 3 Pillars of Public Speaking

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Briefly, ethos is considered the personal appeals of the speaker. The simplest translation is credibility although ethos is much more than that. Pathos relates to tapping into or stirring the emotions of the audience, the emotional appeals. Logos is then the use of evidence and reasoning to communicate the message. It refers to the structure of the argument, focusing on the message. Subsequently, the inartistic proofs, such as facts, statistics, and testimony can all be used to create artistic proofs. It is how we use them which created the specific proof, and the proofs are often blended together. They are interwoven.

In the fourth century B.C., Aristotle identified five inartistic proofs: laws, contracts, witnesses, torture, and oaths. Some believe that, if Aristotle were alive today, he would likely have replaced tortures with photographs and added statistical surveys, experiments, and government documents. Statistics, for example, are facts- inartistic proofs. “One out of every two marriages in the United States ends in divorce.” It is sterile information.

Now if you use this statistic, inartistic proof, in a speech, it can then be used to build credibility or ethos by saying, “The U.S. Census has been reporting for some time that 50% of all marriages will end in divorce.” Showing that you have done research and can cite credible sources contributes to your audience’s perception of you as credible. It can also be used to gain pathos by appealing to emotions: “Turn and look at the person sitting next to you.

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One of the two of you will likely get a divorce.” The statistic can also be used for logos by using reasoning: “Because one out of every two marriages here in the United States ends in divorce, it is imperative we reform the court system to be fair to both men AND women.” And Lastly, the same statistic can be blended together to contribute to all three, building ethos, pathos, and logos: “The U.S. Census reports that half of all marriages end in divorce. That means that one out of every two marriages are not successful. It could be yours, it could be the person sitting next to you. And, if you are a woman, your chances of a fair settlement are far lower than if you are a man. Therefore, we must reform our court system.”

Aristotle said that every speech must have all three artistic proofs, and they must be in balance with each other, and that’s why you may also see these three proofs displayed as the rhetorical triangle. If a speech is more heavily weighted with pathos and logos, you will end up with a speech that is emotionally arousing but nothing substantial for the audience to remember. A speech focused on logos, however, that does not get the audience involved is very boring. Finally, many scholars believe that Aristotle felt the most important of all three of these modes of proof was ethos. If we don’t truth the speaker, we wont accept the premise of the speech- indeed we may not even listen to it. Poor ethos and the other two modes, logos and pathos, are useless.

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