Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)


25 Jan 2007

Rhetoric

Rhetoric – the use of language to persuade. One of the three most important of the "liberal arts" (those skills that free citizens were expected to have). Classical rhetoric recognizes three main ways to persuade. When persuading, we can rouse the readers' emotions (pathos), appeal to their sense of justice (ethos), or rely upon logic (logos).

All arguments fall somewhere withing the three points of the rhetorical triangle, with most academic arguments lying very close to "logos" and closer to "ethos" than "pathos".

  • pathos (emotion): playing to the fears of our audience, inciting hatred of our opponents; also, invoking positive associations, such as a love of democracy or freedom
  • ethos (ethics/character): pointing out injustices, appealing to the opinions of trusted authorities, emphasizing what is right; gaining the reader’s trust
  • logos (logic): assembling all the relevant evidence (quotations, details, page numbers, statistics), ordering it so that the most convincing points come first, and probing to expose weaknesses in all arguments – even the ones you think are "right".

In a literature class, informal response papers and productive in-class discussions can revolve around pathos, and ethos is useful for discussing the moral and cultural context in which the works are situated, but when you write major papers, you will primarily be evaluated on your mastery of logos.

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