The modern discourse, ethos and pathos.

aristotle second As I wrote in my short introduction to rhetoric, it consists of three parts according to Aristotle, credibility (ethos) the emotion and psychology of the audience (pathos) and the patterns of reasoning (logos). Out of those three aspects, one is focused on the message being conveyed from the speaker to the listener, two are focused on “communications”. In this sense, we can categorize the terms as:

Logos : The reasoned argument that is to be communicated.

Ethos: The credibility of the person presenting the argument.

Pathos: The ability of the speaker to communicate in a manner, which appeals to the emotions of the audience and is adapted to their psychology.

An even simpler classification would be that the means to communicate is pathos and ethos, while what is to be communicated is the end of the communication.

On ethos in modern discourse
In terms of credibility, it is to assess the speaker, “does this person live according to his message”, “Is the person someone we should listen to based on their background?” it is totally unrelated to the message itself. Now there are cases where ethos does play a major part, a Stephen Hawking on physics, Richard Dawkins on evolutionary biology and Lawrence Krauss on mathematics. The hard sciences is where value judgments have very little place and as a result, a background in the hard sciences lend credibility.
In fields such as psychology, sociology and political science, the effect of a degree is less, because the fields are “soft sciences” in that they do contain a higher degree of subjectivity and value judgments. For instance, there are political scientists who support communism as an ideology, there are political scientists that support capitalism, liberalism, feminism, authoritarianism, monarchy rule, and every other system of governance, yet biologists agree on evolution as a general theory, physicists agree on the theory of relativity, and mathematicians agree on how to perform long-division.
The further a field gets from mathematics, the more subjective and value laden it gets. All the way down to such academic heavyweight fields as “gender studies” and “art criticism”. Listening to an MD over a mechanic makes sense if you’re having health issues, not if your breaks are not working. Listening to a political scientist or politician, may not mean you get a better or worse answer to a governance perspective than listening to an autodidact.
Who is to say that the person with a degree in political science hasn’t followed a specific curriculum that means including and excluding certain sources and books, based on the preference of a professor, or professors. Marxist-Leninist philosophy used to be required for all University students behind the Iron Curtain. Many Universities teach neoclassical economics, but in doing so exclude both Marxist, Keynesian and Austrian economics to varying degrees. An autodidact who takes foundation classes, and reads a large selection of varied literature on a topic, may have a more well-rounded education within a topic.

On pathos in modern discourse
A second focus is on pathos, “does this person touch my heart”, “and does this person speak in words that do not offend my sensibilities”, “is how the message is being conveyed tasteful to me”. It is also unrelated to the message itself. It is merely a tool to make the pill go down a little bit easier, the sugar to help the medicine go down. This is often what people refer to when they call someone a great orator, or a great public speaker, it is their ability to pander to their audience, to appear to be the equal or slightly above an audience, yet not speak down to them. To present a message in a manner where feelings are prioritized over truth, and sensibilities are prioritized over clarity.
Tell tell signs of pathos in modern discourse is emotional appeals, hamstrung conditional logic, distancing words, identity politics and a lack of clarity. People often accuse politicians of lying but they are not lying, they are just presenting their message in a way that would have the least potential for the highest amount of people to take offense.

That’s why politicians say things like:
“I’m complete in favor of the second amendment; however I think extended magazines need to be outlawed”
Instead of being honest and just saying
“I think Europe and Canada have a better approach to firearms regulations as proven by statistics”
Then people accuse them of lying once they get into office and act in accordance with their own views. Pathos is falsehood, action is truth.

On logos in modern discourse

The role of logos in any discourse, is to be what is to be communicated as initially stated. Communication for the sake of communication is “small talk” where you discuss the weather and what you got for Christmas. Or you ask, “how is the wife and kids” without really caring.

In a true debate, it starts with a reasoned argument, that is then communicated through the speakers credibility and the ability of the speaker to arouse the emotions and passions of an audience. This puts the main weight on the idea to be communicated (the end) and less weight on how and by whom it is communicated (the means).

Logos in and of itself is the formulation of a reasoned argument, based on logical validity and soundness, it is the birth of a new idea or the reformulation of an existing idea.

Unfortunately, in the age of 140 character limits, 30 second attention spans and catch phrases, the role of logos has lost the glory it once held. The focus is on how an idea sounds and the charisma of who speaks it rather than how reasoned it is. This can be demonstrated by things like:

  • The wage gap – Dis-proven by economists yet maintained as a talking point. “Women earn within 2% of men, and in some cases more than men” is just less effective as a talking point. [1] [2] [3]
  • 1/4 women will be raped or sexually assaulted in college – Sounds very good, because 1/30 or 1/40 plus the wholly definition of sexual assault these days just sounds bad. [4] [5]
  • The Western World hates women – Because pointing out that women have a range of legal benefits and protective legislations that men do not undermines your case. [6] [7]
  • Women are harassed more than men online – A great talking point and grounds for protection and censorship but blatantly false. [4]

In conclusion

In order to act as an intellectual with integrity, logos has to be the focus of your arguments, the logic and the facts you are trying to communicate. However, as I’ve argued before, logos is not the most effective for persuasion or pandering to an audience. I read an article recently by Illimitableman where he handles conventional logic vs Machiavellian logic, which is useful reading, as those who are high in one are rarely high in the other.



[3] Economic facts and fallacies – Thomas Sowell


[5] Who Stole Feminism – Christina Hoff-Sommers








19 comments on “The modern discourse, ethos and pathos.

  1. An interesting post Black Label Logic! I do like your thinking, specially your concern with truth and logic.
    I admire you for this.

    A is not ~A

    This is my compass. This shows me the way to go .


    • Truth and logic are important for your own mind. You need to be firmly planted in reality at all times, but you may not want to communicate the truth at all times. This is in my mind the distinction between Machiavellian logic and conventional logic. This is also the “bridge” logos is for the self, ethos and pathos is for the audience. When you communicate to an audience, you need to consider what your purpose is for the communication, but also what the larger goal is. Garry Kasparov has a great quote “Without a goal maneuvering is aimless. You might be a master tactician but you’ll have no sense of strategy”.

      Absolute acceptance of observable truth and logic is your competitive advantage, most people see reality through a series of filters of their own and society’s making.


  2. Is logic always true?


    • Logic is a system of thought, that help us to formulate our thoughts into a product for the marketplace of ideas. As I wrote in validity and soundness, formulating an argument through logic allows us to see if it is valid and sound. So, no logic is not always true in the sense that the conclusions we come to through its use will be the truth. Just because a hammer is a hammer, doesn’t mean that any nail you strike with it will go in straight.


  3. You said,”So, no logic is not always true in the sense that the conclusions we come to through its use will be the truth.”
    O.K. so now I can ask the question more clearly. The question is:-

    If your premises are true and you apply logic to it, then is the conclusion always true?


  4. Can you give examples of:-
    1. Premises that are both valid and sound.
    2. Premises that are both invalid and unsound.
    3. Premises that are valid but unsound.


    • Valid and sound:
      Major premise: All men are mortal
      Minor premise: Socrates is a man
      Therefore Socrates is mortal.

      Valid but unsound:
      Major premise: Snakes do not breathe
      Minor premise: Dead humans do not breathe
      Therefore Dead humans are snakes.

      The argument itself is valid, both the first and second premise is unsound.

      Major premise: Optimus prime is rapist
      Therefore: Optimus prime is a rapist.

      In this case, you are affirming the consequent. I.E the conclusion exists in one of the premises (logical fallacy). On top of that Optimus Prime is not a man, he is a robot (soundness). I did word my first response to you rather poorly. In most cases, premises are said to be true or false, and sound and unsound. Arguments are said to be valid or invalid, and sound or unsound.


  5. […] my first post on the Aristotle’s 3 parts of rhetoric (which I recommend reading first) I explained how any communication consists of a mix of 3 […]


  6. Premises can not be sound or unsound or valid or invalid. Premises can be true or untrue. The concepts of validity and soundness are not applicable to premises but only to an argument. This was the purpose of my questions to you. Do you agree to what I wrote here? You can check any logic book about it and give me the reference if you find otherwise.


    • I agree. I tend to use sound and valid about premises as well to discern where in the argument a person went wrong, but academically speaking you are correct.

      An argument is valid if the premises and conclusion relate to each other in the right way. So that if the premises were true, the conclusion would be so also.

      A sound (and valid) argument is one where premises and conclusion relates to each other in the right way AND the premises are actually true.


  7. […] accused of being a cherry picker, or when being cherry picked with trying to defend themselves with logic, reasoned argument, and acceptable rhetoric. However, this is draws attention away from the argument that was being made, and thus allows the […]


  8. […] seems to be a social justice warrior/third-wave feminist favorite, judging from the high volume of pathos and ethos used in their communications. It also signals a departure from the objective to the subjective […]


  9. […] familiar with Aristotle’s 3 forms of rhetoric is also highly beneficial as the more apt you are at ethos and pathos, the more fallacies you can […]


  10. […] Those of you who have read my posts on logic, and particularly my posts on logical fallacies, should be familiar with how you can call someone out when they make fallacious or spurious arguments against you. This was my own motivation in immersing myself in the field of logic for years, the ability to become a human logic machine. This is its own reward, the ability to use reason as a rapier can be exhilarating and bring great intellectual satisfaction, however logos alone is not an effective tool for the rhetorician. […]


  11. […] is all done through the power of ethos, pathos and logos, the three cornerstones of Aristotle’s rhetoric with the aid of sophism in order to build a […]


  12. […] to think critically and seek out evidence. This is not what you want. You want them to accept your ethos and pathos as proof of your logos, because this means your logos can be shit. However, as you are not concerned with a search for […]


  13. […] As mentioned, syllogisms are ways to structure arguments formally, in such a manner that the truth of the premises guarantee the conclusion. The primary benefit of structuring your core arguments into syllogisms is to structure them in such a manner that they become clear to you and to others. It also has the benefit of offering a clear set of rules for how to structure premises, which in turn reduces the emotional content of an argument, in effect it removes the ethos, and pathos. […]


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