Ethos, Pathos, Logos: focusing your conversation

I want to introduce three terms from classical (Greek) rhetoric that can be useful to think about as we go forward in the course–and apply both to our critical reading and our writing. In classical rhetoric, where the focus is on an orator and his/her presentation to a live audience, there were three main appeals or ways of relating to your audience. Appeal meaning the ways an orator (now writer) gets his audience to listen and be compelled; ways to focus on the kind of conversation you are having and ways to engage your audience.

Ethos: as in ethics; where the stature and character of the speaker is what persuades and convinces. One way to think of ethos now–the credibilty or authority or expertise of the writer.

Pathos: as in sympathy and empapthy; where the orator/author appeals to the emotions of the reader–focuses on convincing by way of feeling.

Logos: as in logic; where the author follows the laws of logic to convince–and must be careful not to be illogical: for example, contradictory.

I wrote further about these three in relation to Birkerts in this post from last year. Alissa Vechhio’s blog last semester on chapter 2 in Gutenberg focuses on empathy (and begins to questions Birkerts in terms of contradiction): thus she has her eye on pathos and logos. We will continue to think about these as we go on. As you will note from my blog, I have issues with Birkerts mainly in terms of his logos–that is, I think his argument is weak logically but powerful in terms of pathos.

You can think of these ideas as a sort of template to use in your composting–think of ways you might develop one or more of these areas–as well as a tool for revision: identify a place where you can strengthen your pathos or logos, for example. In a larger sense, the word (and study that goes with it) rhetoric is about how to structure and build arguments by using these kinds of templates. Thus, the Graff’s are focusing on rhetoric when they talk about templates; but do so without using the Greek terminology.

By the way, I have found that Birkerts occasionally posts on a blog run by Encyclopedia Britannica. Perhaps that is a contradiction (logos problem)? Or perhaps he is strengthening his ethos and pathos in doing so? See what you think.

Overall, thus far, where do you think Birkerts is strongest–in terms of ethos, pathos, or logos? Where is he weakest? And why?


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