The Three Pillars of Persuasive Speech: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

Pillars of persuasion - ethos, pathos, logos

The art of persuasion is as old as human kind. Dating back to the 4th century BC, Aristotle's Rhetoric influenced the development of rhetorical theory. The treatise was a collection of the students notes' and demonstrates the Greek philosopher and scientist's commitment to developing the art of winning the soul through discourse as a systematic, scientific study.

He says:

Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic. Both alike are concerned with such things as come, more or less, within the general ken of all men and belong to no definite science. Accordingly all men make use, more or less, of both; for to a certain extent all men attempt to discuss statements and to maintain them, to defend themselves and to attack others.

Ordinary people do this either at random or through practice and from acquired habit. Both ways being possible, the subject can plainly be handled systematically, for it is possible to inquire the reason why some speakers succeed through practice and others spontaneously; and every one will at once agree that such an inquiry is the function of an art.

Aristotle felt that others who had addressed the judgemental aspects of rhetoric, his desire was to give it more structure by focusing on the essential pillars for making a persuasive verbal argument, The modes of persuasion are the only true constituents of the art: everything else is merely accessory.

Persuasion in the sense of demonstration and it has a structure. Therefore, he concluded, it is as universal as dialectic. He then set out to explain the three main tactics to employ in the structure of speech—ethos, pathos, and logos. These are the words the Greeks used for them.

The three pillars of persuasive speech

Mortimer Adler, who was Chairman of the Board of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Director of the Institute for Philosophical Research, Honorary Trustee of the Aspen Institute and author of more than fifty books says, there are no better words.

In How to Speak, How to Listen, Adler explains their meaning and how they're employed in the business of persuasion.

  • Ethos—signifies a person's character. It should always come first because we need to portray ourselves as someone who knows what she's talking about, that we have the credentials, experience, and know-how to be believable, to be worthy of attention:

Establishing one's character is the preliminary step in any attempt at persuasion. The persuader must try to portray himself as having a character that is fitting for the purpose at hand.

Two good ways to establish our credentials are 1./ through asking someone to introduce us before our talk, and 2./ starting the speech with one or two brief stories that illustrate how we dealt with a problem, a question, or an opportunity.

Better yet if the story has a twist, it will help us get attention. So we must be trustworthy, but honesty and goodwill only go so far, we must also be attractive and likeable.

  • Pathos—is the motivating factor:

it consists in arousing the passions of the listeners, getting their emotions running in the direction of the action to be taken.

We want emotions to run high. To be effective in using pathos we must both recognize universal human desires—like liberty, justice, pleasure, position, preference, and good reputation—in some cases instilling the very desire our product satisfies. We prepare the ground for what comes next—comparing the experience we provide with our competitors'.

  • Logos—the marshaling of reason comes last. First we must elicit feelings in our favor and in favor of the end result, then we can introduce reason.

Reasons and arguments may be used to reinforce the drive of the passions, but reasons and arguments will have no force at all unless your listeners are already disposed emotionally to move in the direction that your reasons and arguments try to justify.

Facts and figures help confirm the way we feel about something, they justify our feeling with proof. But we should be brief and to the point, lest we lose our audience with too much data.Our reasoning process should skip too many premises and get to it. Rhetorical questions are another way of omitting the premise by taking it for granted.

In commerce a good marketing strategy includes the post-purchase phase. People want to feel confident they have made the right choice. Smart companies make their manuals the best part of marketing so they're easy to leaf through and share with others.

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos as the Pillars of Big Ideas

In The Story Grid, book publishing veteran Shawn Coyne says Ethos, Pathos, and Logos are the building blocks of Nonfiction scenes. Coyne built a Story Grid for the Big Idea book Nonfiction genre by analyzing Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point.

He says:

Ethos is all about the bona fides of the arguer. Does the writer have the character and background to be someone worthy of trust? Is he principled? Does he have experience in the arena in which he writes? Is he an expert?

Pathos is the writer appealing to the emotions of his audience to get them on his side, arousing readers’ anger or appealing to their self-interest or sense of identity. As you’ll surmise, employing a fiction writer’s Story techniques is crucial to being able to make this form of persuasion for a Nonfiction writer. 


Getting readers to “like” the writer or “root” for him to succeed in his argument is another way of making a Pathos based argument. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, perhaps the writer wishes his readers to “fear” his “Oz-like” all-knowingness.

Logos is all about the evidence/the data/the backup material that the arguer/writer uses to support his conclusions. Because of the following data/examples/case studies, logically we can conclude…

Before we can sell anyone anything—a product, a service, an experience, but also an idea—we must persuade them. We can use the time-tested ethos, pathos, and logos in this order to form the pillars on which to structure our speech or Big Idea.



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