Doyle Online Writing Lab

Aristotle & Persuasion

In the Rhetoric, Aristotle distinguishes three means of persuasion that can be produced by the rhetorician's art:

  1. argument (the "proper task" of rhetoric--see other side of handout on logic)
  2. the character of the speaker
  3. the disposition created in the hearer

The latter two types of persuasion are achieved by the following means:

1. Pathos (Emotion)

Definition: "Creating a certain disposition in the audience" (Rhetoric 1356a, 1377b). An emotional appeal that secures the goodwill of the hearer


  1. lay claim to qualities that the audience will respect
  2. stress disadvantages of speaker's situation as a claim to pity
  3. arouse hostility against opponent
  4. generate prejudice against the opponent through tangential or irrelevant information
  5. incite fear
  6. plea for pity

2. Ethos (Moral Character)

Definition: Use of claims about speaker's moral character to gain trust of audience. The province of ethos is wisdom, virtue, and goodwill.


  1. appeal to age & experience
  2. reverence for civic virtue
  3. patriotism and public-spiritedness
  4. displays of piety
  5. follow rules of decorum (e.g. avoid delicate subjects)
  6. model restraint


Carey, Christopher, "Rhetorical Means of Persuasion," Persuasion: Greek Rhetoric in Action, ed. Ian Worthington. London: Routledge, 1994: 26-45.