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How To Be Persuasive in Making Arguments: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

The intent of this article is to be a guide for students who want to become persuasive. This reference guide uses the classical conception of persuasion as devised by Aristotle. Aristotle's persuasive concepts have withstood the test of time, and are still as relevant today as effective, perhaps the most effective persuasion techniques. These are so effective because they satisfy the necessary and most salient elements behind what we find persuasive in our human nature.

The strongest arguments have all three of these persuasion characteristics discussed below.In life, we make arguments all the time, in order to convince people of various things, from the trivially important to the most dire. We try to convince our parents, our teachers, our bosses, and our friends, etc.

In many of these domains we will need to establish ourselves as trustworthy and as having character, and in others we won't (because it's already established). But it's necessary to know all three of these facets of persuasion discussed in this guide in order to maximize your powers of persuasion.

How To Be Persuasive in Making Arguments

Aristotle described three aspects to produce a persuasive argument:

  • Ethos
  • Pathos
  • Logos

What do they mean?

  • Ethos is the character of the speaker making the argument
  • Logos is the content of the argument itself
  • Pathos is the emotional appeal of the argument as experienced by the listener

These three argumentation tactics are found in his work Rhetoric (written 350 B.C.). Read Aristotle's Rhetoric in full here:

Ethos: The Character of the Speaker

Ethos is a Greek word meaning "character". Ethos is where we get the word "ethic". The relevant questions that Ethos is answering is "Is this person who is making the argument worth listening to?" "Does this person have good character and should I pay attention to what they're saying?"

The speaker's character is the first thing to establish

Ethos is the first tenet, because it has to be established first, before (or at the beginning of) the argument being made. Establishing the good character and trustworthiness of the speaker up front, at the beginning of the argument, is crucial.If a person's character isn't established right up front, then their argument, however sound, might be lost on the listener. The listener has not been properly introduced to the speaker's Ethos or character, and may not be investing their attention and effort to engage in the argument. The more complicated the argument, then all the more attention and effort that would be required by the listener. So all the more necessary and important to establish good character before making an argument.

How to establish good character

We all have a good idea of what constitutes good character, and what these traits are, such as proper motives, honesty (with no deception or ulterior motives behind making the argument).

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Pathos: The Emotional Appeal

The emotional appeal of the argument, as it's felt and experienced by the listener. It's an emotional appeal, through the argument, to their inner emotional nature and emotional intelligence. This is done, not in contradiction or in replacement of the argument's logical content, but in addition to it.

The purpose is to persuade. Emotional import and appeal is very effective in persuading the listener.One way to accomplish this, is to appeal to the listener's moral sensibilities, such as their sense of justice (or injustice), freedom, dignity (or indignity), and the like.

Another important way to accomplish this is to have solidarity and commonality with the listener, and they we are all experiencing the same things, and labor under the same human conditions and hardships and triumphs. This establishes a kind of emotional alignment.

But you still need actual logical content within the argument. The argument cannot consist of Ethos and Pathos alone, without Logos, or else it is vacuous. Logos is the actual content of the argument itself.

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Logos: The Content of the Argument

The argument needs to be coherent and understandable. This is what drives the argument home. This is the actual content of the argument; the main position that is being put forward in the argument. This includes the premises, and conclusions. These need to hang together and be logically sound. So it's important to avoid logical fallacies, which can derail your argument.

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See our article The Top 10 Most Common Logical Fallacies.

How To Be Persuasive in Making Arguments: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos FAQ

What is the best way to be persuasive?

The best way to be persuasive is to be develop these three persuasion tactics to the best of your ability. And then use them to improve them and hone them over time: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Provide the listener with these three things: Are you a good person who should be regarded and listened-to.

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What are the 3 persuasive techniques?

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Ethos is the character of the speaker making the argument. Pathos is the emotional import of the argument on its listener. Logos is the logical content of the argument.

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How do you develop persuasive skills?

Learn the three persuasion tactics of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, and how to implement them into your arguments when trying to persuade people. Establish trust, make the argument have emotional appeal to the listener, and keep the argument sound logically. The best way to develop persuasive skills is to learn these three tenets and practice them.

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What makes a person persuasive?

What makes a person persuasive is their bona fides and good character to be listened to in making the argument, the emotional appeal and import of their argument upon the listener and how it impacts them on an emotional level, and then third is the soundness of the argument logically.

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