For the layperson, logos means logic; ethos, ethics/credibility; pathos, emotion. The audience is more than aware that the most sound logical argument (logos infused), if made by an unsound person (wanting ethos) without some appeal to emotion (wanting pathos) will not be effective. It is important to pause here and note that Aristotle was describing life as he saw it, not prescribing life as he thought it should be. Think back to Plato. Plato believed rhetoric was generally applicable only to the spoken word and that rhetoric was irrational. Aristotle is distinguishing himself then. And this is a subtle, but weighty distinction. It is the key to understanding precisely why Aristotle is due all the credit he receives for his contributions to rhetoric. In the specific case of pathos or emotion, unlike Plato, Aristotle does not see harm or irrationality. Instead, he observes that emotional appeal is a part of any communication. Since it is a part of any and every communication, he goes on to argue that it must be accounted for. Aristotle writes that emotional appeal must be acknowledged. And once acknowledged, emotional appeal begs to be studied and put to deliberate use.
Even a rhetorician’s actual ethical credibility, or ethos, is not objective or mathematical. Today, if not during Aristotle’s lifetime, scholars note that a speaker’s ethical credibility can be faked with the skillful application of rhetoric. Perception is reality, as the saying goes. Basically if a speaker can convince an audience he or she is an expert, then in the audience’s eyes he or she is an expert (Moss 638). Again, note that Aristotle does not recommend the deceit. As before, he simply recommends that this ability, inherent to rhetoric, to influence the audience be acknowledged.
Given the thousands of years since Aristotle lived, there are plenty of opinions regarding his ideas. Interestingly, most seem to still find his ideas challenging and applicable. Of late, it seems that there may even be a bit of resurgence regarding the application of his analyses. Michel Meyer suggests that people should think about Aristotle’s contributions to the study of rhetoric in the following way. Meyer writes that he believes that Aristotle taught that rhetoric is the way people negotiate the distance between each other. He is referring to the temporal distance that unspoken questions create. For example, Meyer mentions a certain television commercial for Chanel no 5 (a fragrance). He says the unspoken question is how can an image sell a scent? The answer Chanel chose was to negate the problem. The ad campaign developed a commercial which included very familiar problems being solved, to include Little Red Riding Hood taming wolves. Implicit in this action is the association that Little Red Riding Hood miraculously tames previously dangerous wolves, just as Chanel no 5 solves the audience’s fragrance problem (Meyer 250). The success of Chanel no 5 alone can be taken to prove that rhetoric is clearly involved in answering these unspoken questions. In other words, the skillful application of varying amounts of logos, ethos, and pathos is both possible and effective.
In conclusion, this paper simply adds to the already well-established argument that Aristotle is the father of rhetoric. In continuing a pedagogical tradition that Socrates began, Aristotle furthered the study of the tools available to a communicator, whether speaker or writer. He didn’t seem to concern himself with prescribing what to do, instead just describing the options a rhetorician possesses. Considering the practical desire to persuade other people each person has on a near daily basis, it seems that modern man should still be interested in reviewing the way which early man believed it was possible to do this. Aristotle’s ideas captured in his book Rhetoric is the best place to begin.
“Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” The Contemporary Review Aug 01 1878: 206. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2013 <http://search.proquest.com/docview/1294650855?accountid=14506>.
Meyer, Michel. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” Topoi 31.2 (2012): 249-52. Springer Link. Web. 23 July 2013. <http://0-link.springer.com.skyline.ucdenver.edu/article/10.1007/s11245-012-9132-0/fulltext.html>.
Moss, Jean D. “Reclaiming Aristotle’s “Rhetoric”” The Review of Metaphysics 50.3 (1997): 635-46. JSTOR. Web. 23 July 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20130074>.