Appeal to Ethos, Logos & Pathos – Rhetorical Techniques

aristotle on ethos, logos and pathos

According to Aristotle, there are three means to persuade in a debate or speech. Every argument we make can be attributed to one of these categories and knowing and mastering them is bound to give you the rhetorical advantage over your adversaries.

The three modes of persuasion, explained in his book about Rhetoric are the following:

“Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word, there are three kinds. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech was so spoken as to make us think him credible. Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.”



What does Ethos mean? The definition of Ethos:

Ethos by definition of the word means ethics and image. It evolves around building a cult of personality and relies heavily on trust, mastery and social proof.

In no way does this mean that you need to be a particularly ethical person in order to persuade an audience. To ensure that the prince strikes the plebeians as genuine, it is enough to come across as an ethical person with a good character and best intentions in mind.

Appear as you may wish to be, because perception is reality. – Niccolò Machiavelli

Ethos is among the first things we become aware of that influence us. Both the reputation, background, authority and first impression have a significant impact on how we perceive the speaker.

Mastery and Social Proof are the two deciding factors when it comes to an appeal to ethos but also the choice of words are of importance. If you want to be perceived as an authority in the academic field, it helps to use sophisticated words, while in other situations the right words to make you seem like an authority are threats. Using secret language and technical terms help convince the audience via Ethos.

Mastery and being an expert regarding a particular topic is one way to favourably utilise ethos to ones’ favour. It leads to instant authority. So does Social Proof, because mankind still hasn’t evolved much from thousands of years ago when we were living in tribes. The herd is bound to agree with the decision the majority of the herd makes.

The prince always guards his reputation with his life and acts as confident as a king (Law #34) as well as Law #46. Never appear too perfect. Little mistakes and character flaws can have favourable effects on Ethos. On the other hand, you want to proofread your arguments and avoid committing grammar or logical mistakes or fallacies.

Related to the Ethos are ad hominem attacks, that attack the man himself to discredit his arguments, without actually invalidating those arguments. A logical fallacy and a popular technique in political debates.


Example of Ethos  in a sentence

  • Do you honestly believe I am a person who would do such a thing?
  • My studies in the field of gender studies qualify me as an expert in gender dynamics and hence you should believe every fake claim and statistic I made up.
  • Mexicans all over the United States love me. Everyone loves me. That’s why you should make me the president.
  • You are a Nazi hence everything you say is untrue
  • His father’s experience has taught him that it is a wise decision not to visit Somalia
  • Every police officer, that ever had to use his gun, prefers the Glock 19.
  • I have been a loyal wife my whole life. Why would I cheat on you now?



What does Logos mean? The definition of Logos:

Logos relates to logical arguments, rationality and well thought-out content. Logos is used to present facts and statistics. Overdoing it leads to a dry speech or debate and will only alienate the listeners, unless in the field of academia, where almost everything is focused on empirical data and proof.

It is not necessary to convince everyone that our solution is a confirmed, irrefutable fact.

We must merely manage to convince the audience that our arguments pose a possible solution and a good one that is at least worth giving it a chance.

If we want to use Logos in our favour to attack or rebut an opponent, we can do so by questioning and questioning his assumptions and the likelihood of a positive outcome.

The use of analogies may also fall under Logos, when used to craft logical connections. Related is the conductive reasoning, also known as inductive reasoning. The prince takes a fact, study or representative case and crafts logical or seemingly logical connections between this case and his assertion.

Similar is the deductive reasoning where you utilise generalisations to craft a connection, to back up a claim.


Example of Logos in a sentence

  • The statistic speaks for itself. Eastern European immigrants are much easier to integrate than Muslims.
  • Our current course has brought us many votes, we need to continue it.
  • Memento Mori. All men are mortal. Cesar is a man. Cesar is mortal.
  • A man who has been brought up with medieval views will have a hard time accepting modern life because in between lie worlds.
  • Practice makes perfect.



What does Pathos mean? The definition of Pathos:

Too many plebeians make the mistake of believing that strong, logical arguments and appeals to logic and rationality will lead to victory. They are wrong.

The modern prince seeks to evoke emotions such as anger, hope, enthusiasm, fear but also pity in his audience to sway their opinion. Anger and fear cloud the thinking, making people more vulnerable to manipulation attempts.

An appeal to mercy, (wrong) beliefs or the values of another person also is a type of Pathos, so are metaphors, analogies and storytelling.

The use and spin of words plays a not insignificant factor that must not be overlooked. By calling a massive, crippling tax increase might be called an increase of dues or tolls. Frame your enemy in a bad light and tell an atrocious story evoking and associating negative values or results with the person or idea you are opposed against

The modern Machiavelli will use Pathos to create a smokescreen that covers up facts and distracts from the truth or the real issue.


Example of Pathos in a sentence

  • Unless we act now and kill the rats, the rats are going to breed, multiply and ultimately take over our house!
  • If you don’t grant me permission to take over command, we are all going to die.
  • I trust that you will make the right decision because you are an honourable person.
  • Don’t travel to Turkey; I heard that it is much more dangerous than Croatia at the moment.
  • The whole Martin Luther King speech.
  • Ur racist!


Appeal to Ethos, Logos & Pathos

A persuasive speech is a speech given with the aim to persuade the audience of a specific point of view. This type of speech is the opposite of an informative speech, that only serves as a means to inform people. Frequently the line between those two blurs when someone is giving an informative speech because most people consider their viewpoints or topics they are interested in, as superior. This article focuses on the persuasive speeches, but it might be worth reading how to structure and give an informative presentation, for example in this wikihow post.

When giving a speech and trying to persuade your audience, you should mainly appeal to the Ethos, convince them of your honesty and authoritative character, and create a strong emotional response through Pathos.

Sorted by importance:

  • Ethos (appear ethical & authoritative)
  • Pathos (evoke strong emotions)
  • Logos (use logic & hard facts)


There are many examples of ethos and pathos trumping logos, but not always this is the case. Hence the modern prince will want to apply a suitable mix of all three aspects, applying what is most useful.

In world war two there was an incident where a poisonous gas deposit exploded, releasing the lethal gas and killing a few allied soldiers and citizens. At first, they believed that Nazi Germany attacked them and wanted to immediately strike back using poison gas. Not wait or anything but crush them the second their emotions were triggered by the unfair gas attack.

Fortunately, they could keep their trigger finger calm, didn’t start an attack with weapons of mass destructions and avoided the war to take even more gruesome turns. The poisonous gas induced a strong emotional response, this combined with the fact that Nazi Germany had the reputation of being vicious brutes prepared to do anything for the Endsieg, almost convinced them to commit a terrible mistake. Fortunately logic and reasoning were able to prevent the worst. Not only from a humanitarian point of view but from a strategic point as well. Germany was the only nation with rockets in world war 2 and equipping them with poisonous gas would have led to terrible causalities.

Still, this example provides a good insight into how strong the power of an emotional appeal can be. Just like how Churchill called for poisonous gas attacks on Berlin after Germany started sending their V2 rockets into the heart of London.

Another example of how emotion over logic often leads to terrible, terrible decisions. Nazi Germany didn’t use poisonous gas during the invasion of the Normandy, because not logic (many generals and Goebbels calling for the use of gas), but emotions (Hitler’s cowardice and fear of poisonous gas because he fell victim to it during the first world war) prevailed. If Hitler would have ordered the use of lethal gas, he could have easily stopped the invasion dead in its tracks, because no allied soldier was equipped with a gas mask.

German scientists developed neurotoxins far superior to the little breeze their opponents could produce. A gas that was lethal even if it was not absorbed but merely touched the skin. Joseph Goebbels, the Machiavellian propaganda minister and logical thinker, called for the mass production and for a total war of mass destruction, but Hitler’s cowardice and megalomania paired with terrible strategic thinking did, in fact, cost Germany the war.

Another surprising fact: I read the memoirs of Berthold Speer some time ago and still remember parts of it that struck me as especially gruesome. Hitler told Speer, his favourite architect and minister for ammunition and supplies, to not pay attention to the German citizens when operating. That the German people were expendable. He said that the Germanic race was too weak to survive and that he would stay cruel even when faced with extinction. At the same time, he claimed that the Eastern races deserve the victory and that the future belongs to them.

Remarkable is that Speer is, I believe, the only Nazi in a high position who got away with a harmless sentence that put him in jail for 20 years. Though of course, one must not forget the German scientists like rocket scientist and father of space travel Wernher von Braun, who were responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews that worked themselves to death and had to play human rats for their experiments. Those of course were happily given an official letter of pardon by both the American and the Russian government as well as a high paying, reputable job. If you make yourself valuable and indispensable, you can get away with mass murder. Read Law #11.

If Hitler hadn’t started the war with Russia, for no good reason at all, and if he would have focussed on his core competencies, actually listened to advice and other suggestions, and left the command of the army in the hands of a skilled strategist like Erwin Rommel, I can ensure you that you would be speaking German now, if you aren’t already.

Where was I again and why does every single discussion involving propaganda, manipulation and persuasion ultimately end with a discussion about the Nazis?

Ah, yes, rhetoric. Moving on…


Example of Ethos, Logos and Pathos in a discussion

Since I am fond of politics, a field where the road to success can be found in the form of rhetorical & Machiavellian superiority, I am going to provide you with an example of a recent debate between a moderator and former vice-chancellor Michael Spindelegger (on the right). It was a debate about a tax topic, Spindelegger was in favour and Armin Wolf, the moderator, against it.


debate using ethos logos pathos


Using Ethos:

Armin Wolf has honed the reputation as a smart, witty, well-educated person, who without a doubt enjoys expert status.

He also attacked the character of Spindelegger by accusing him of lying, as well as interrupting him, ergo showcasing authority, unusual for a journalist.

When he was confronted with the (not untrue) fact that he has a personal agenda, he defended himself by citing his long history of neutral and objective journalism work.

His body language was open, he showed his open palms and appeared to be genuine and trustworthy.


Using Pathos:

Overstating facts is a common technique used by journalists, in order to provoke emotions. Not only in the vis-à-vis but also in the audience.

He framed things in a way that made the audience angry at his opponent.

At the same time, he planted the seed of doubt, fear and anger, by talking about possible negative outcomes and worst case scenarios.


Using Logos:

Now this is where Wolf excels. He is magnificent at using Logos and even better at making the audience believe that he is using logic and the truth, while actually having no clue what he is talking about. Now this is not pure Logos, but rather a mix between Ethos & Logos.

Drawing conclusions between actions and reactions also is frequently utilised.

Another amazing tool in the Logos sector is using statistics and facts. Even better than merely talking about them, is showing proof. (Related Law: #9, show don’t tell) He does so by bringing a physical, tangible paper with a few fancy “facts, that might be true or false, but it doesn’t matter too much because of the strong swaying effect such a move has.


Most Important Learnings:

Be like water, adapt to the situation and use a diversified mix of various rhetorical tools at your disposal and appeal to ethos, logos & pathos.

  • Ethos (appear ethical & authoritative)
  • Pathos (evoke strong emotions & construct distracting smokescreens)
  • Logos (use logic & hard facts)


Thank you for reading and make sure to check back to read my next article about persuasive speeches, an outline and the techniques you can apply to persuade your listeners. I also recommend you to buy Aristotle’s book about rhetoric. This is the version I own.