What are the essential tools for teaching rhetoric and rhetorical analysis? This blog series will explore one tool each week.

Aristotle’s Appeals

Perhaps the best-known part of Aristotelian rhetoric is the appeal. Aristotle presents three appeals, also known as the Aristotelian triad: ethos, pathos, and logos. All three appeals can be found in most arguments.

Ethos: an appeal to personality or character

The writer or speaker’s credibility and trustworthiness are essential to his or her ability to build a relationship with the audience. An author might:

  • Rely on a professional reputation
  • Appear sincere
  • Appear fair-minded and just
  • Acknowledge opposition when appropriate
  • Use diction and syntax that match the occasion and audience
  • Demonstrate expertise
  • Supplement gaps in expertise by citing other experts
  • Demonstrate strong ethics and morals
  • Suggest or demonstrate that she/he is acting on behalf of the audience

Pathos: an appeal to emotion

Pathos is powerful. It can move an audience to act without extensive thought. Authors use pathos to create a sense of urgency or need. When an author uses pathos, she/he is trying to draw on something already in the hearts of the audience, for example:

  • Sense of justice
  • Sense of fear
  • Sense of duty
  • Sense of hope
  • Sense of faith
  • Sense of patriotism
  • Sense of adventure
  • Sense of curiosity
  • Sense of cynicism
  • Sense of doubt

Pathos may appear as emotionally loaded (connotative) language, vivid imagery, anecdotes and testimonies, and emotional tone.

Logos: an appeal to reason

Logos is the most academic of the appeals. Its purpose is to create a rational, cognitive response in the audience. Indeed, there are wide-ranging branches of study about types of logic and logical processes. Logos typically depends on two processes: inductive and deductive reasoning.

  • Deductive reasoning starts with a universal statement and draws a more specific conclusion. Deductive reasoning includes syllogism and enthymeme.
    • Within syllogism, it is important to note two additional terms: valid and sound. For a syllogism to be valid, it must have a logical progression and conclusion: A + B = C.
      • A: All men are mortal. (Major premise or universal statement)
      • B: Socrates is a man. (Minor premise or related, more specific statement)
      • C: Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (Logical conclusion drawn from A + B)
    • The classic example above is valid because of the logical progression of ideas. It is also sound because it is true.
  • Inductive reasoning starts with a specific idea and draws a more universal conclusion. Inductive reasoning cannot necessarily be proven the same way that deductive reasoning can. Induction means taking the available information and making an educated guess.

Logos may appear as scientific facts and theories, analogies, definitions, factual data and statistics, quotations, and anecdotes.

Writing About the Appeals

At least in my experience, many teachers spend time teaching students how to identify the appeals but not much time teaching students how to write about them. I see students write statements like, “The author uses pathos when…”

That might suffice for students who are newly introduced to rhetoric, but it is a relatively pedestrian way to deal with appeals. Here’s a trick I like to use to create more sophisticated analysis of the appeals: the cause and effect sentence.

RhetorsToolbox Appeals
A nifty technique for avoiding simplistic analysis of rhetorical appeals

“The author uses pathos when…” now becomes “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. employs an appeal to hope to develop the central message that people of all colors could exist as brothers and sisters.” This tool is accessible enough for students to apply the first time around, and it’s equally painless for them to integrate into their everyday writing over time.

There you have it: a quick breakdown of the Aristotelian Triad. For many students and teachers, this is a sufficient understanding of the appeals; however, each appeal has nuances and consequences that extend much further than the graphic above. It is vital that students and teachers alike are aware that rhetoric is an art. Analysis of rhetoric is therefore a complex endeavor that must account for the writer or speaker’s imaginative and technical skills.

What’s next in the Essential Tools for Teaching Rhetoric Series? We’ll be digging into ethos. Check back next week!

8 thoughts on “Essential Tools for Teaching Rhetoric: The Appeals

  1. I shared this with an AP Lang colleague–sadly, I was taken out of AP Lang this year–and he said the level of conversation he got from this tool was far deeper than ever before.

    My colleague and I often joke about the weak analysis students do by saying things like, “Wow, he just uses sooooooo muuuuch ethos in his words.” We extend the absurdity to other areas of rhetorical analysis, like, “The author uses diction to get his point across.”

    So, this was timely and very helpful. I’m glad I saw it and could pass it on.

  2. Thank you so much for the concise chart. I have done something similar in the past, but your chart makes it quite clear for all my students, from EL to GT! Thanks!

  3. Do you have this chart available as a pdf? It is perfect for my freshmen who are really struggling with rhetoric.

  4. This is wonderful, especially the above chart. Is it possible to get the chart in a PDF form?

    Thank you for your insight!

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