Aristotle is known as one of the greatest philosophers of all time, whose works are referred to by all undergraduate and graduate-level students of philosophy; and he is generally one of the first great thinkers presented in even elementary and high school-level classes on the subject. While various works of his live on today, it is perhaps his Rhetoric
that remains most relevant in modern teaching environment. While his philosophy is taught largely as a building block of greater understanding of philosophical principles, this work remains as a fundamental to understand more modern theories.
For the most part, the novel was the basis for academic instruction on persuasive writing through the middle of the 20th century and even after that point, modern theory was based on the strengths and inherent minor weaknesses. Among its most notable elements (as well as that which sticks most readily in the minds of students), are the Aristotelian concepts of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. The three elements are intended as something of a definition of rhetoric itself, and Aristotle pays particular attention to these three elements in describing the art and technique of persuasion in both speech and writing.
Ethos, as a mode of persuasion, involves the speaker or writer, and more specifically, the moral character of the speaker as well as the speaker’s expertise and knowledge of a given subject. Specific expansions of this concept are given in the novel in question, as it previously dealt only with the ethics or morals of the speaker, and included no notions of expertise or knowledge. For this eminent thinker, ethos consisted of three distinct elements, including phronesis, or practical wisdom, arête, which is virtue, and eunoia, which is goodwill towards the audience. While it was indicated that ethos was limited to what the speaker said, others have long contended that it extends to the overall, known character of the speaker or writer. In this sense, the ethos of the speaker is established, at least to some extent, before any argument or attempt at persuasion is made. While the concept of ethos is fundamental to even modern theories, it has extended well beyond the field and into other areas of study. In the social sciences, for instance, the concept of “source credibility” is a direct extension of ethos.
Pathos is one of the three elements that deals with a direct appeal to the audience’s emotions. This is naturally extended not just to emotions in the strict sense, but also to the pre-determined viewpoints or sympathies that an audience may have. In this sense, an audience will relate to what the speaker is saying. Pathos is often used through the use of metaphors and recounting of stories, though delivery of a speech or writing can also contribute heavily to this element, as a speaker can deliver his speech emphatically or with passion.
Logos is the element that relates to the speech itself or, more specifically, to the logical appeal of the speech. Aristotle specifically mentioned “reasoned discourse” when discussing logos, and put simply, it is that element that is most closely tied to reasoning of a speaker’s argument or thesis. This concept was expanded in great detail, including offering a summary of logical fallacies that were not to be accepted in the judgment of a speech or discourse.
For those students who may be entering a class on logic or persuasive writing, the topic of Aristotle’s Rhetoric will surely come up and is likely to form the basis for the study of persuasion in general. In that sense, this brilliant philosopher’s great work lives on more than 2000 years after it was authored.