Utilizing Aristotle’s Rhetoric

Parthenon in Athens Greece

Rhetoric by Aristotle

Humans are an interesting species, with each of us a totally unique combination of intellect & emotions as well as a blend of conscious and unconscious biases which helps determine our beliefs, inform our decisions, and drive most of our actions.

When we hear or read a story we tap into our complex humanity in an equally complex way as we decide whether the argument being presented is convincing, whether it resonates with us.

In the 4th century BC, Aristotle offered up his insights on the art of persuasion in what many consider the most important work on the topic when he crafted the ancient Greek treatise Rhetoric, which outlined three fundamental means of persuasion.

Male Female Statues at Fountain

Book I: Chapter 2

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos].

This involves an interesting combination of the words spoken, the speaker’s physical appearance, their vocal qualities and even body movement, all of which must be in alignment to maximize impact.

Whether a storyteller is thought of as part of the audience’s social circles – income or educational level, race, gender, religion – is yet another factor related to whether a message is fully embraced.

Black and White Sculpture

Three Pillars of Rhetoric

Ethos – the intent of the storyteller is to be accepted by the audience as credible and having good intentions. Does the audience believe in the storyteller, are you authentic and trustworthy?

Pathos – tapping into your audience from an emotional standpoint. Will your message, in some fundamental way, be heartfelt in a way that is in alignment with their values, their beliefs, and their morals?

Logos – Is there logic behind the argument that’s being made? Does the narrative, with its supporting facts and figures, make sense from an intellectual perspective when the story concludes?

Getting others to understand your viewpoint requires all three.