Ethos, Pathos, Logos: focusing the conversation

I introduced “rhetoric” as one of our keywords, and defined it in this way: the art (in the original Greek, the word is techne) of developing and delivering persuasive expression or communication. In “Hidden Intellectualism,” when Graff argues for the importance of argument, he is arguing for rhetorical knowledge. For Graff, such knowledge can be found in schools, interacting with books, but it can also be found in the vernacular, in the world of what he calls “street smarts.” For some further discussion of the power of rhetoric and its relevance to you as college students, read “How to Think Like Shakespeare.”

I want to introduce three terms from classical 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. I suspect that some of you have encountered these concepts previously in an English or composition class. Whether you know them well or not at all, I suggest that they can be useful for us as a heuristic, a tool for getting our hands on the rhetorical mechanics that are hidden behind the curtain.

In classical rhetoric, where the focus is on an orator and his/her presentation to a live audience, there were, according to Aristotle, three main appeals or ways of relating to your audience. “Appeal” refers to the ways an orator (now writer) gets her audience to listen and be compelled: ways to focus on the kind of conversation you are having and ways to engage your audience. To use the terms from Harris’s Rewriting, these are older names for ways we do things with texts and engage in the social practice of academic or intellectual argument.

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 credibility or authority or expertise of the writer. This authority might be suggested in the writer’s background and credentials; but it can also be demonstrated in the way the writer presents herself and her argument.

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

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

These are key elements of what we  can think of as the “rhetorical situation” (more on this from Purdue OWL) that form the conditions for any act of composition–or even prior to that, any act of thought or conversation. We will be focusing on these rhetorical conditions of our writing and critical thinking in each writing project. When we are effective in our composition of writing and thinking, we have a good handle on these conditions. Here is a link to the original discussion in Aristotle’s Rhetoric.

You can think of these rhetorical elements as a sort of template or tool to use in your composting of ideas for a writing project; that could begin with your blog writing, focus your close reading response on an element of the writer’s ethos, pathos, or logos. You can also use these elements as a revision tool: identify a place where you can strengthen your pathos or logos, for example, in a draft you are working on. In a larger sense, the word (and study that goes with it) rhetoric is about how to develop, arrange, and deliver arguments by using these kinds of templates.

A basic definition of rhetoric I am working from is thus: the tools a writer or speaker uses to focus the audience’s attention on being informed, persuaded, delighted–ultimately, compelled–by the conversation at hand. That takes work. But since the very beginnings of the academy, this art of rhetoric has been something  that could be taught, practiced, learned. That’s my guiding assumption in this course.

Think about applying this concept to guide your initial reading. For example: how would you characterize the ethos, pathos, logos of Graff’s argument, or Berry’s “In Defense of Literacy”? Where do you see it at work and effective, and why? Where would you say it is lacking?


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?


ethos, pathos, logos: appeals to your reader

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.

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 semester. Alissa Vechhio’s recent glog 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.

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.


ethos, pathos, logos

Some thoughts and links that emerged from our initial discussions of Birkerts. I thought we made a great start in dealing with his ideas and his text deliberately–beginning to hear him for those ideas but also beginning to notice how the writing works, where it is compelling and where it is less so.  I used the terms in class: ethos, pathos, logos. These are Greek words for three things that are at issue and in play in making a presentation (originally oratory, now to included writing) rhetorically powerful: the credibility represented or established by the speaker (ethos); the sympathy or empathy generated by the writer/rhetorician (pathos); the logic and sense and order of the argument (logos). On Friday, we began to see that if we take Birkerts to be hypocritical at points, it may be a problem with his logos: he argues one side and neglects or generalizes for the other. It may also be a pathos problem: he insults us or diminishes us (“non-reading horde’), not a good way to generate sympathy. At the same time, in the example I pointed to where he reflects back on his parents’ rural upbringing and distinguishes such reflection from shallow nostalgia, I would argue that the passage is compelling in its pathos: I can empathize with his understanding of slow time and can begin to share his concern for the speed of the electronic world.

We also began to consider ways that his hypocrisy is an issue of how he very narrowly defines reading (only books, nothing else outside of a book) and also narrowly defines technology as digital/electronic. The logos problem here is part historical: books are technology, a technology (print, movable type, mass reproduction of print) that revolutionizes writing and how we read. And before that, writing was a technology that revolutionized thought and communiation. And now, the digital/electronic reproduction of ideas is also revolutionizing how we think, read, communicate. We want to get a better grasp of the historical context for this: not generalize what book or print or reading or writing or digital means or implies. Begin to get a more complicated understanding–since all of these things are in fact complicated: complications and combinations of historical, social, technical, human ideas and things. Another word/concept we will being to use and better grasp by the end of the course: medium; all of these different things share a key characteristic–they are mediations, are media. In other words, all are extensions or machines for ideas, for thinking, for communicating. And when we work on our own writing, and work on revising that writing, a better understanding of the medium and the ways we can mediate (and remediate) the thinking and communicating is what we are after. In ancient Greece, rhetoric means an orator’s (later, writer’s) ability to manipulate the dials and levers of the machine, including those marked: ethos, pathos, logos.

By the way, I did find that Birkerts posts a blog sometimes for Encyclopedia Britannica. You might find it interesting–the ideas are familiar to what we are reading. In the post I have linked, reference is made to a recent article that asks “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” I have a link for that article and some thoughts on it here–and would note that the author of that article begins to provide, even in brief, more of the historical context for books as technology (rather than simply books vs technology) that we are looking for.

A note on the Glog. I am using them, in part, in place of a quiz on the reading: so one things I am looking for (though not the only thing) is how well you are engaging the reading. In that sense, you might think of the glog as a self-made quiz, where you demonstrate your reading. But in addition to this, the glog is also an extension of the journal writing and discussion that will work its way into your writing projects: notes and ideas you have from the reading. Having rich quotations and your paraphrase of several chapters and your interpretation of key sections and a sense of the questions you have–all this could work its way into a future writing project. With that in mind, it pays off to be specific and thorough now; at the end of the term, should you decide to bring Birkerts back for your final project, you won’t be left with a blank slate.

Two examples you might browse for some gloggers who had a good, initial grasp of this: Devin and  Michelle.


class discussion: 9/1

talked about the first writing project–the assignment is described on the “Writing Projects” link from my homepage. Started to ‘compost’ some ideas: autobiographical experiences you have had as a reader and writer.

Went back to page 22 in GE, which I suggest is a good model for how we can use autobiographical reflection to develop critical reflection–our focal point for the first essay. In other words, how we use personal voice and experience effectively in our writing without being superficial or sounding like we just want to talk about ourselves.

Birkerts makes a distinction between reflection (depth, understanding) and nostalgia (quick, immediate, desire to return to the past). In writing and developing critical reflection–we also want to focus on reflection rather than nostalgia. I noted that elsewhere in his book, SB is guilty of nostalgia, especially when he generalizes about new technologies.

I introduced three rhetorical terms we will get back to at different points: logos, ethos, pathos. The passage on page 22 I think is effective in using the reflection to develop pathos: our connection and sympathy with the writer. By the way, keep your eye on this idea of a reader’s sympathy–as the word will come up often in Frankenstein.