Introduction

Euan is running for the president of the newly founded sustainability club. In his campaign speech, he says: “Every day, birds in our community are losing their lives from injuries related to gum and other garbage deposited by careless litterers. We need to come together to save these lives. My plan to begin weekly campus clean-ups is a seed for change to sprout. I would be honored to work with this group of intelligent, good-hearted students along our sustainability journey.”

Explanation

In his speech, Euan uses the first person plural point of view and words like “community” to invoke a sense of togetherness. As members of the sustainability club, Euan can expect his audience to be saddened by environmental harm, including the devastation of the bird population. He ties the problem to litterers, directing the audience’s blame and anger towards them. Once Euan has stirred up these emotions in the audience, he makes a call to action and a relevant metaphor for his plan. Euan ends his speech by flattering his audience. By appealing to their sense of self, he invokes their desire to fulfill the expectations implied in the speech by voting for Euan and helping him save the birds. Euan has just used several appeals to pathos.

Definition of Pathos

Pathos is a feeling evoked by speech or writing. In rhetoric, the term pathos is most often used to refer to the appeal to pathos, which is an attempt to persuade the audience by invoking their emotions. This can be achieved by using concrete examples, relevant comparisons, tone, and diction.

The History

Pathos is a Greek word that came into the English language in the mid-seventeenth century. It translates to “suffering” and is related to the Greek word penthos, which means “grief.” However, the term’s meaning has been extended beyond suffering to include any emotion, such as happiness, fear, anger, and disgust. The Classical Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first to define pathos in its rhetorical usage. He explained that the appeal to pathos involved “putting the audience in a certain frame of mind.” Aristotle also emphasized that this effect could only be produced if the speaker or writer knew their audience, their audience’s values, and how those values affect their emotional responses to particular topics. Otherwise, the audience would not respond to the emotions the speaker was attempting to bring to the surface, or they could even respond adversely.

Using It

Creating a successful appeal to pathos depends largely on one’s ability to correctly identify and judge their target audience. Because of this, pathos can work very differently in speech and text. While an orator may be able to change their appeals depending on how the audience is reacting throughout the speech, a writer cannot change their words as someone is reading them.

However, both writers and speakers need to make similar preparations to ensure they target emotions related to their topic. If they stray too far, they could end up creating a fallacious appeal to pathos. For example, if you are campaigning for school president, it would be better to evoke sympathy for the people your policies will help than their fear of what could happen if you are not elected. 

It is important to combine appeals to pathos with other argumentative resources that are less emotionally rooted, such as facts and figures. Using pathos in this way will help you put your audience in the emotional state necessary to empathize with your argument, while retaining their trust in you as a speaker.

    Learn More

    1. Gayle, Kendra, et al. “Pathos.” Writing Commons, 16 Apr. 2012, writingcommons.org/article/pathos/.
    2. Gaiman, Neil. “What Is Pathos? Definition of Pathos With Examples.” MasterClass, 2 July 2019, www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-pathos-definition-of-pathos-with-examples.
    3. “Literary Devices” Literary Devices. 1 May 2017. Web. 5 Dec. 2017. <https://www.literarydevices.com/>.
    4. “Pathos.” Excelsior College OWL, 11 Sept. 2018, owl.excelsior.edu/argument-and-critical-thinking/modes-of-persuasion/modes-of-persuasion-pathos/.Scopa, Sally. 
    5. “Pathos.” LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 5 May 2017. https://www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms/pathos

    Think Further

    1. When might you find it most useful to appeal to pathos? When might it be less effective?
    2. How could you balance an appeal to pathos with other argumentative techniques?
    3. What are the dangers of fallacious appeals to pathos?

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