Writer's WebThe Three Appeals in Argument

When something works so well that we continue to use it after 3,000 years, it must be effective. Even before writing became widely practiced in Ancient Greece, orators would use three methods for convincing an audience of their claims. We still use these appeals today.

Logos: An appeal to logic.

When a writer today employs logos, s/he might draw upon statistics, credible sources, arguments premised on reason, and the inherent logic of a situation. Consider this claim in a student paper about heart disease and pork-rind consumption:

The information about the risks of eating pork rinds comes from no fewer than seven scientific studies published in respected journals. Each study was reviewed by a panel of readers who did not know the authors. The journals receive no outside funding except from their subscribers. Based on these factors, one must conclude that unless other studies come forward, pork-rind consumption poses health risks.

Pathos: A appeal, common in non-academic writing, based on emotion.

From our pork-rind paper:

When you see someone reaching for the pork rinds in the supermarket, you should slap it out of their hands and tell them the terrible story of these crunchy death-bags full of poison. Oh, consider the children who will grown up addicted to these vile things, unless we all act now!

Pathos-based appeals can play on fears or other emotions. Advertising has elevated the use of pathos to a very fine art.

Ethos: An appeal based upon the reputation or experiences.

Again, from the same paper:

Darleen Diggler of Greasy Bottom, VA, was the first to testify at the Congressional hearing on pork rinds. Ms. Diggler, who had suffered four heart attacks, needed assistance getting into the chair provided her by the Congressmen. As she testified, "see what a pound of rinds a day will do to you! I've been eating them for thirty years! Now it is too late." She broke down, sobbing, at this point. Ms. Diggler's testimony was followed by Dr. I.M. Smarte, an award-winning cardiologist from the Medical College of Virginia. Dr. Smarte presented evidence from his four decades of practice, and he noted the high levels of saturated fat, trans-fat, and cholesterol found in pork rinds and urged Congress to pass the legislation outlawing the snack.

Both Ms. Diggler and Dr. Smarte use ethos to make their claims; Smarte also employs logos (the claims about what the rinds contain). Diggler's plea could be seen as employing pathos to sway the lawmakers.


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