Chapter 5: Aristotle and the Modes of Appeal

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Explain Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric
  • Differentiate between the three modes of appeal: logos, pathos, and ethos
  • Distinguish a rhetorical model of communication from other communication models

Key Words and Concepts

  • Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric
  • Modes of Appeal
  • logos
  • pathos
  • ethos
  • rhetor
  • credibility
  • character

What is the Art of Rhetoric?

Have you ever had a discussion about a controversial matter, after which you changed your opinion? Have you ever had an argument with a friend or family member that resulted in either you or the other person more aggressively defending a position that became less defensible as the argument progressed? Have you ever found yourself carried away by someone’s bad idea, only to ask yourself later, “What was I thinking?!”

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, the art of rhetoric might help you understand exactly what happened.

Rhetoric, defined most broadly, is the art of persuasion. Since any type of communication can be created with the intention of influencing opinions or behaviours, rhetorical principles can be found in speeches, written documents, images, films, and even gestures and other non-verbal modes of expression.

By studying rhetorical principles, and their use by the authors of different types of communication, we can cultivate two important skills: recognizing how we are persuaded and using those tools to persuade others for our own professional purposes.

First, we can develop a clearer understanding of how we are persuaded to believe the messages we find convincing. As humans, we often come to accept an idea about the world not only on the basis of available evidence, but also because of our trust in the source of the information. Additionally, the way we perceive the information as fitting in with our beliefs about the nature of reality can have an effect. By considering the principles of rhetoric, we can isolate elements of an act of persuasion in order to have a clearer understanding of how reasonable a message is.

Second, studying the art of rhetoric can help us communicate more effectively. Because we are so frequently using persuasion—whether we’re attempting to secure a job, trying to persuade a family member or colleague to help us with a difficult task, or even hoping to convince a friend to accept our opinion—the ability to be persuasive is crucial for success in both our professional and personal life.

Because persuasion is a universal human activity, complex rhetorical traditions have developed among cultures throughout the world. In this textbook, we focus on the European tradition of rhetoric, which began to be documented in Athens in the fifth century BCE, and which has continued to be studied, developed, and applied for nearly two and a half millennia.

According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE), rhetoric is an art through which one can develop “an ability, in each [particular] case], to see the available means of persuasion” (Kennedy, 1991, p. 36). This definition is important for our purposes for two reasons.

First of all, if we’re not naturally charismatic, we may ask ourselves, “can I learn to be persuasive?” Aristotle observes that some people are persuasive by nature, while others develop the skill through study and practice. Thus, he anticipates this question by describing rhetoric as a technē (pronounced “TEKH-nay,”); that is, as an art or skill with rules that can be learned (Kennedy, 1991, p. 29). Because some people have a knack for persuasion—others seem to accept their ideas even when those ideas are not very good ones—we all need to hone our persuasive skills in order to help our audience accept our message. Otherwise, a potential audience could risk being misled by an uninformed opinion expressed by a particularly charismatic speaker or writer.

Second, by referring to the “available means of persuasion,” Aristotle points to what are also known as the three modes of appealethospathos, and logos. The modes of appeal are distinct ways of engaging an audience, and are particularly useful for evaluating others’ messages as well as for helping us carefully design our own messages. Analyzing a persuasive message using these tools can give us insight ultimately into whether the message is actually persuasive or not. By considering them while we are composing a document or preparing a presentation, we can increase the likelihood that our audience will be persuaded by our own message.

The Three Modes of Appeal

While Aristotle’s approach to rhetoric informed rhetorical training in the European tradition to varying degrees, rhetorical scholars in the twentieth century became particularly interested in his theories. These scholars started a movement called the Neo-Aristotelian school of rhetoric. While the modes of appeal began with Aristotle, their description below reflects the influence of these more recent scholars.

These modes of appeal are simple yet profound tools that enable us to analyze the persuasive qualities of messages composed by others and to design more effective messages ourselves.

Before we dive into each mode, watch the video below for a brief introduction to each one.

Now that you have a general understanding of the logos, pathos, and ethos, let’s discuss each one in detail.

Logos: Appeal to Logic

Logic. Reason. Rationality. Logos is brainy, intellectual, cool, calm, collected, and objective.

When authors or speakers rely on logos, it means that they are using logic, careful structure, and objective evidence to appeal to the audience. Authors or speakers can appeal to an audience’s intellect by using information that can be fact checked (using multiple sources) and thorough explanations to support key points. Additionally, providing a solid and non-biased explanation of one’s argument is a great way for an author to invoke logos.

For example, let’s say an instructor wants to convince their students that they should complete their homework. The instructor might explain that they understand everyone is busy and they have other classes (non-biased), but the homework will help the students get a better grade on their test (explanation). The instructor could add to this explanation by providing statistics showing the number of students who failed and didn’t complete their homework versus the number of students who passed and did complete their homework (factual evidence).

Logical appeals rest on rational modes of thinking, such as:

  • Comparison – a comparison between one thing (with regard to your topic) and another, similar thing to help support your claim. It is important that the comparison is fair and valid—the things being compared must share significant traits of similarity.
  • Cause/effect thinking – you argue that X has caused Y, or that X is likely to cause Y to help support your claim. Be careful with the latter—it can be difficult to predict that something “will” happen in the future.
  • Deductive reasoning – starting with a broad, general claim/example and using it to support a more specific point or claim
  • Inductive reasoning – using several specific examples or cases to make a broad generalization
  • Exemplification – use of many examples or a variety of evidence to support a single point
  • Elaboration – moving beyond just including a fact, but explaining the significance or relevance of that fact
  • Coherent thought – maintaining a well organized line of reasoning; not repeating ideas or jumping around

Pathos: Appeal to Emotions

When rhetors rely on pathos, it means that they are trying to tap into the audience’s emotions to get them to agree with a claim. Authors or speakers using pathos appeals want the audience to feel something: anger, pride, joy, rage, or happiness.  For example, many of us have seen the ASPCA commercials that use photographs of injured puppies, or sad-looking kittens, and slow, depressing music to emotionally persuade their audience to donate money.

Pathos-based rhetorical strategies are any strategies that get the audience to “open up” to the topic, to the argument, or to the rhetor. Emotions can make us vulnerable, and rhetors can use this vulnerability to get the audience to believe that their argument is a compelling one.

But pathos strategies are not only limited to using emotional appeals in your argument. Pathos appeals might also include:

  • Expressive descriptions of people, places, or events that help the reader to feel or experience those events
  • Vivid imagery of people, places or events that help the audience to feel like they are seeing  those events
  • Sharing personal stories that make the audience feel a connection to, or empathy for, the person being described
  • Using emotion-laden vocabulary as a way to put the audience into that specific emotional mindset (what is the author or speaker trying to make the audience feel? and how are they doing that?)
  • Using any information that will evoke an emotional response from the audience. This could involve making the audience feel empathy or disgust for the person/group/event being discussed, or perhaps connection to or rejection of the person/group/event being discussed.

When reading a text or listening to a speech, locate when the speaker is trying to convince the reader using emotions in their communication. When emotional appeals are used to excess in an argument, this kind of rhetorical strategy can sometimes indicate a lack of substance or emotional manipulation of the audience.

Exercise #1: Identify Pathos Appeals

Pathos is all about tapping into the emotions of your audience to get them to agree with one of your claims. This is done most commonly in advertisements. All advertisements want you to react in some way. They may want you to buy a specific product they are selling, donate to a certain charity, or even take an action that will benefit only yourself. The most effective advertisements, then, are the ones that make a pathos appeal to their audience.

Watch both videos below. Each one is an advertisement. As you watch, consider the following questions:

  1. What action does the advertisement want you take?
  2. How is the advertisement appealing to your emotions?

For the second question, see if you can identify at least three pathos appeals.

Video #1: Sarah McLachlan SPCA Commercial

Link to Original Video:

Video #2: British Heart Foundation

Link to Original Video:


Ethos: Appeal to Values/Trust

Ethos appeals have two facets: audience values and authorial credibility/character.

On the one hand, when rhetors make an ethical appeal, they are attempting to tap into the values or ideologies that the audience holds. This can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • patriotism
  • tradition
  • justice
  • equality
  • dignity for all humankind
  • self preservation
  • specific social, religious or philosophical values (Christian values, socialism, capitalism, feminism, etc.).

These values can sometimes feel very close to emotions, but they are felt on a social level rather than only on a personal level. When authors or speakers evoke the values that the audience cares about as a way to justify or support their argument, we classify that as ethos. The audience will feel that the author or speaker is making an argument that is “right” (in the sense of moral “right”-ness, i.e., “My argument rests upon that values that matter to you. Therefore, you should accept my argument”). This first part of the definition of ethos, then, is focused on the audience’s values.

On the other hand, this sense of referencing what is “right” in an ethical appeal connects to the other sense of ethos: the author or speaker. Ethos that is centered on the author or speaker revolves around two concepts: the credibility of the rhetor and their character.

Credibility of speakers or authors is determined by their knowledge and expertise in the subject at hand. For example, if you are learning about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, would you rather learn from a professor of physics or a cousin who took two science classes in high school thirty years ago? It is fair to say that, in general, the professor of physics would have more credibility to discuss physics. To establish their credibility, rhetors may draw attention to who they are or what kinds of experience they have with the topic being discussed as an ethical appeal (i.e., “Because I have experience with this topic—and I know my stuff!—you should trust what I am saying about this topic”). Some authors or speakers do not have to establish their credibility because the audience already knows who they are and that they are credible.

Character is another aspect of ethos, and it is different from credibility because it involves personal history and even personality traits. A person can be credible but lack character or vice versa. For example, in politics, sometimes the most experienced candidates—those who might be the most credible candidates—fail to win elections because voters do not accept their character. Politicians take pains to shape their character as leaders who have the interests of the voters at heart. Candidates who successfully prove to the voters (the audience) that they have the type of character that the voters can trust is more likely to win.

Thus, ethos comes down to trust. How can rhetors get the audience to trust them so that they will accept their argument? How can authors or speakers make themselves appear as credible speakers who embody the character traits that the audience values?

Aristotle succinctly states that there are three things we trust other than logical proof: good judgement (practical wisdom), good will, and good character (virtue) (Kennedy, 1991).

In building ethical appeals, we see authors or speakers:

  • Referring either directly or indirectly to the values that matter to the intended audience (so that the audience will trust the speaker)
  • Using language, phrasing, imagery, or other writing styles common to people who hold those values, thereby “talking the talk” of people with those values (again, so that the audience is inclined to trust the speaker)
  • Referring to their experience and/or authority with the topic (and therefore demonstrating their credibility)
  • Referring to their own character, or making an effort to build their character in the text
  • Displaying their concern for the audience

When reading or listening, you should always think about the rhetor’s credibility regarding the subject as well as their character.


Exercise #2: Chapter Quiz

Test your understanding of the material in this chapter with the quiz below.

Key Takeaways

  • Rhetoric is a set of principles that allow a speaker or writer to persuade an audience to take a specific action.
  • Learning these principles will help us understand how we are persuaded by messages and, most importantly, how we can use those principles to persuade others in professional contexts.
  • Aristotle is the most famous teacher of rhetoric. He believed that anyone could learn the art of persuasion through practice. His three modes of appeal are considered one of the best ways to persuade others.
  • The three modes of appeal are logos, pathos, and ethos.
  • Logos occurs when authors or speakers use logic, careful structure and objective evidence to appeal to the audience.
  • Pathos occurs when authors or speakers try to tap into an audience’s emotions to get them to agree with a claim.
  • Ethos occurs when authors or speakers appeal to the values of an audience and try to establish their own credibility and character.
  • To be successful at persuasion, a person must use all three modes of appeal when constructing their message. Ignoring any one of them will make the message less effective at persuading an audience.


Kennedy, G. A. (1991). Aristotle on rhetoric: A theory of civic discourse. Oxford University Press, USA.


This chapter is adapted from “A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing” by Melanie Gagich and Emilie Zickel (on Pressbooks@MSL). It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.




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Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach Copyright © 2021 by Rebekah Bennetch; Corey Owen; and Zachary Keesey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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