The Three Pillars of Persuasion: Ethos, Logos, Pathos

Updated on March 25, 2020
Ethos, Pathos, and Logos
Ethos, Pathos, and Logos | Source

Have you ever wanted to get your way? Perhaps you have an issue about which you are passionate. Perhaps you've wanted to get a job – or get a raise in the job you already have. Perhaps you simply want to win an argument. The way to do all this is through the use of persuasion.

When you attempt to persuade someone, you are attempting to do one of two things – or perhaps both. For one, you may be trying to convince them that your personal truth is the truth. Think of a courtroom: the prosecutor is trying to convince the jury that the defender is guilty and deserved punishment. The defense attorney is trying to convince the just of the opposite truth: the defender is not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Second, you may be trying to convince a person to act: give a job, a raise, a ride to school, change a policy, join you in a political protest.

Whether speaking or writing, the way to persuade someone is to use rhetoric: the art of effective writing or speaking. Since the time of Aristotle, people have used the three pillars of persuasion in their rhetoric: ethos, logos, and pathos.

Dr. King spoke with great ethos.
Dr. King spoke with great ethos.


The persuasive technique of ethos relates to ethics. For the ethical appeal, writers or speakers want to convince the audience that they are a credible source. Audiences listen to and believe people whom they believe are ethical. Some authors are experts in their topic, so they have credibility all ready. For the rest of us, we must convince the audience. We do this by proving our character or our reliability.

Following are some examples of ethos, the ethical appeal:

  • A student is arguing against block scheduling, or rotating 90-minute classes. In his introduction he highlights the fact that he is a straight-A student and his mother is a teacher.
    • The fact that the student achieves straight As and has a parent who is an expert in the field lends the student some level of credibility.

A CEO speaks to her employees about topics relevant to the company.

  • The CEO has authority in her topic because she spent years getting to her position.

From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech: He quoted Lincoln while standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. He also quoted the United States Constitution.

  • Quoting Lincoln lends gravity and authority to his speech; Lincoln is recognized as the emancipator of the slaves, and King was speaking to equal rights for African-Americans. In quoting the Constitution, he was referring to the highest law in the country.

How to make this persuasion technique, ethos, work for you:

  • If you do not naturally have authority or expertise concerning your topic, you can research those who do. Adhere to standard rules of grammar.
  • Build your reputation. At the very least, show up early for your speech so that you can greet people as they come in. Dress well, and project confidence. Also, use a level of language that is appropriate for your audience.
  • Build rapport with your audience. From the start, use inclusive language to get them thinking on your side. Use rhetorical questions. For example, “Have you ever thought about…?” People are conditioned to answer questions. Invite them into your thinking with phrases such as, “Well, let me tell you about…” (speech) or “While researching this topic I discovered…” (paper).
  • Encourage the feeling that you are fair – ethical. Acknowledging the counter-argument is an excellent way to build this aspect of ethos.
  • Ethical appeals work because when people believe the speaker intends no harm, they are more willing to listen to what she has to say.
  • Ideally, you want to establish your ethos, your credibility in the beginning and maintain it throughout.

Conduct your research and quote the experts.
Conduct your research and quote the experts. | Source


The persuasive technique of logos relates to logic and reasoning. This appeal means citing facts and statistics, citing authorities on the subject, and making logical analogies.

Following are some examples of logos, logical reasoning:

  • From Al Gore's speech "A Generational Challenge to Repower America" July 17th, 2008,

“Two major studies from military intelligence experts have warned our leaders about the dangerous national security implications of the climate crisis, including the possibility of hundreds of millions of climate refugees destabilizing nations around the world. Just two days ago, 27 senior statesmen and retired military leaders warned of the national security threat from an “energy tsunami” that would be triggered by a loss of our access to foreign oil. Meanwhile, the war in Iraq continues, and now the war in Afghanistan appears to be getting worse.”

  • Gore paraphrases military intelligence experts as well as senior statesmen and retired military leaders. These are logical sources to support his claim. He also draws a connection between their findings and his protest of the war.

In a paper against smoking, the fact is relayed, "Cigarette smoke contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer."

  • The statistics support the claim that smoking is unhealthy.

A classic argument: That cannot be my book. I wrote my name in my book. This book has no name written in it. Therefore, it cannot be my book."

  • This speaker argues logically – he sets a truth, shows how the current situation does not meet the truth, and therefore argues against a claim.

Sojourner Truth (1797 – 1883) used a similar rhetoric in her "Ain't I a Woman" speech given in 1851 to the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio: "That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?"

  • Truth sets a truth laid about by a white man: women deserve special, delicate treatment. She then points out that none of those considerations were given to her, despite the fact that she could even keep up with men. She then drives home the reality that she did not even get the basic considerations, much less those accorded a woman. Her repeated, "Ain't I a woman?" brings the argument back to the fact that the stated truth is not being upheld.

How to make this persuasion technique, logos, work for you:

  • Conduct extensive research of reliable sources and use the facts to support your claim, the personal truth you are trying to convince your audience of.
  • Whenever relevant use statistics; people believe in the math.
  • Use "if-then" statements with solid supporting evidence. For example, a speaker could argue that if a state raises the legal driving age to 18, fewer teen-related accidents and deaths will result. The speaker could then point out the obvious – fewer teens driving should mean fewer teens causing accidents – and also use statistics to support the statement.
  • Start with your claim, your personal truth you want to convince the audience of. Brainstorm the reasons you believe this claim to be true. Supply evidence at every step of the way, and ensure that evidence supports your claim. For example, there's no point in mentioning high rates of teens causing accidents if you are trying to argue for off-campus lunch in high school.
  • Logos, logical reasoning, should provide the foundation and structure of your argument. People believe in facts and evidence; you will convince them to agree with you if you provide enough logical reasoning.
  • Ideally you should use logos throughout the body of your speech or paper.

Ethos, Logos, Pathos

Meet Otis -- an appeal to emotion
Meet Otis -- an appeal to emotion | Source


The persuasive technique of pathos relates to the emotional, or sympathetic appeal. Speakers and writers use pathos to garner sympathy from an audience. In addition, successful writers engenders the target emotions from the audience, be it pity, anger, or regret.

Following are some examples of pathos, the emotional appeal:

  • Barack Obama Night Before the Election Speech Manassas, Prince William County, Virginia November 3, 2008:

“This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.

“This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he's worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

“We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes."

  • This emotional appeal plays on people's sense of guilt. Obama wants people to feel as if they are truly better than such apathetic voters. Obama uses the snob appeal fallacy in this argument, but it is still a powerful emotional appeal.

Hilary Rodham Clinton Concession Speech, Washington D.C., June 7, 2008: “Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it.”

  • This is a very emotional appeal for feminist voters. Clinton alludes to the glass ceiling that prevents women from reaching the highest levels of business and power. She points out that, thanks to her receiving 18 million votes the ceiling has cracks in it. People who voted for her will feel very emotional about the attempt – and failure – to shatter that glass ceiling.

From an advertisement for the Pedigree Adoption Drive:“Meet Otis. Otis lives in a shelter. He sleeps a lot. There isn’t much else to do. When people walk by, Otis opens his eyes and wags his tail. Then they leave. So he eats. And waits. And remembers. The smell of home, scratches from his owner, a squirrel he used to chase. Then he gets tired. And sleeps again.”

  • For animal-lovers, this ad presents a very emotional appeal. It tells the story of how the dog used to have a happy life and how he misses that life. It implies that the dog is depressed. Coupled with the picture of a sad-looking dog in a cage, It definitely aims to move people to act.

How to make this persuasion technique, pathos, work for you:

  • Appeal to people's beliefs and feelings, both their higher emotions – fairness, lov,e pity – and their baser emotion – greed, lust, revenge.
  • Use anecdotes, stories that support your claim and call people to action.
  • Consider your word choice. Aim for a certain tone – humor, sarcasm, excitement – and choose words that relate to that tone.
  • Use figurative language.
  • The majority of the arguments in the popular press relate to emotional appeals. Pathos moves people to action because it appeals to the heart. People react without fully considering why they are doing so.
  • Ideally, use pathos at the end of your speech or essay. The end of your reasoning is the last thing people have in their minds, so they remember it. If you can catch their emotions, they are more likely to heed your call to action.

Effective Rhetoric

Which is the most effective persuasion technique?

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In order to be an effective persuader, you need to utilize all three pillars of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. Use ethos in the beginning to set up your creditability and to make you readers/listeners relate to you. Use logos, or logic, to argue the majority of your point. Finish up with pathos, or the emotional appeal. People will act based on their emotions, and that is, after all, your ultimate goal.

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Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Nadia Archuleta


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      • profile image

        abby lilleodden 

        7 months ago

        I think ethos is the most effective because people's emotions can really affect their decisions on anything and that usually what people base their decisions off of.

      • profile image

        ella o'shea 

        8 months ago

        I think ethos is effective because emotions are very vulnerable and can easily persuade people just based on how something makes them feel.

      • profile image

        Malory VanEngen 

        8 months ago

        I think if you want to really persuade someone you go for the ethos technique because peoples emotions really change their perspective on topics.

      • profile image

        malerie kinney 

        8 months ago

        I think ethos is the most effective because people tend to go with their cut emotions at the start rather than critically thinking about the situation

      • Robert Levine profile image

        Robert Levine 

        4 years ago from Brookline, Massachusetts

        A very cogent description & analysis of the rhetorical triangle--necessary not only for being able to persuade but for detecting the flaws and fallacies in others' arguments. I also recommend King's "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail" as a rhetorical tour de force.

      • Matt Jordan III profile image

        Matt Jordan 

        6 years ago from Gulf Coast

        One editorial note: You use the term defender. It's defendant. I have only just started what appears to be a very interesting article and that is a distraction. But I'm with you so far. More tomorrow.


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