Week 5 – Ethos (Character, Credibility)

In rhetoric and rhetorical studies, ethos represents credibility, or an ethical appeal, which involves persuasion by the character involved.The term has its roots in Aristotle’s “ingredients of persuasion,” or “appeals.” He divides means of persuasion into three distinct categories: ethos, pathos, and logos. He says in his treatise On Rhetoric:

“Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. […] Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.”

It is a means of convincing others of the character or credibility of the persuader. It is natural for us to accept the credibility of people whom we hold in reverence.

In an argument, it is of utmost value for a speaker or a writer to impress upon listeners and readers the idea that is worth listening to. In other words, the credibility of a speaker or a writer relies on his or her authority on the subject matter, as well as on how much he or she is liked and deemed worthy of respect. Ethos can be established by:

  • Using a tone and style that shows the writer/speaker holds the subject and the reader/listener in high regard. In other words, treating the reader and the subject with respect.
  • Using authoritative, reliable and credible sources to support the premises in the argument.
  • Providing enough space to fairly consider alternative points of view.
  • Having a background in the material that builds confidence in the reader/listener that the speaker/writer has enough experience, training and expertise to speak with authority on the subject.

Ethos (sometimes called an appeal to ethics), then, is used as a means of convincing an audience via the authority or credibility of the persuader, be it a notable or experienced figure in the field or even a popular celebrity. We determine Ethos by looking at the tone, style and credibility of the speaker, the sources and the publication. We determine it by establishing the authority and credibility of the argument and the arguer. It is an essential element of Aristotle’s model of rhetorical appeals. The word Ethos means “character” or “credibility” or “qualifications.”

  • When someone asks, “What right do you have to speak on this issue?” or “What are your qualifications to speak on this matter?” They are asking for character and credibility, or Ethos.
  • When you offer credentials, experience, appeals to shared beliefs and values or other appeals to emotion as “support” in an argument, you are using Ethos.
  • Proper use of Ethos in an argument will offer appeals to emotions, values and beliefs that: are shared with the readers/audience, do NOT hide or obscure the fact that the argument has little to no logical support, and do not unfairly promote hatred or fear without sufficient cause.
  • View the handout: Ethos
  • View the following video: What is Character (Ethos)?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ano2hBbiaiI
  • View the following video: Five Ways to Persuade with Character (Ethos)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4c75dYQoFo

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Critical Thinking by Andrew Gurevich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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