The 3 Methods of Persuasion | Rhetoric - Aristotle
Human beings are always in search of truth; we want to know things. To not know often causes us great pain. We search for truth, together, in various ways such as discussion, argumentation, philosophy, science, and even art. When we have conflicting views over the truth, we often enter into a game of persuasion: we try to convince the other that the belief we hold is, in fact, the true one. The art of persuasion is an important one because - in the right hands - it allows truth to win over lies. In this video, we will explore the three methods of persuasion laid out by Aristotle in his book Rhetoric. Keep in mind that - for Aristotle - rhetoric is the art of persuasion and not the meaningless language that many politicians are charged with using.
Ethos: Persuasion by Character
The first of the three persuasive methods is persuasion by character or credibility. We are more easily persuaded by people who come across as trustworthy. Aristotle put forth three qualities that a trustable person would have: good sense, good moral character, and good will.
We say a that person has good sense when we trust their judgment. They’re a rational and reasonable thinker. They stay cool, calm, and collected. They are a credible professional in the field they speak about.
We say that a person has good moral character when we expect them to do the right thing even if no one is looking.
Lastly, we say that a person has good will when we believe that they have our best interests at heart.
According to Aristotle, these are the three traits that a trustable person has. Now, let’s move on to the next method of persuasion.
Pathos: Persuasion by Emotion
The second of the three modes is persuasion by emotion. Depending on our emotional state, we may be more or less inclined to adopt a particular belief. A master of persuasion must know how to make these emotions arise and, perhaps more importantly, disappear. It helps to get people angry about a new law being passed, if you believe that the law is honestly harmful to them: they may channel their anger towards stopping that law. On the other hand, it may be important to dispel anger directed towards you when it’s undeserved. Putting people into a calmer state of mind makes them more likely to listen to what you have to say.
Aristotle talks about the emotions in depth in Book 2 of Rhetoric but I’ll give a brief summary of the, roughly, 7 emotional dualities he puts forward.
Anger Vs Calm
People feel angry when you show contempt towards, act spitefully against, or shame them. Showing contempt means that you treat the things, or people, that someone cares about as unimportant. Acting spitefully means that you are preventing someone from getting something that they want just to hurt them. Shaming someone means that you are discrediting them in some way. People feel calm when you do the opposite of these acts.
Friendship Vs Hatred
We feel friendly towards people who unselfishly want the best for us. The opposite makes us feel hateful.
Fear Vs Confidence
We feel fearful when someone, or something, has the power to bring us harm or suffering. We feel confident when no such danger exists or when we have methods for dealing with it.
Shame Vs Shameless
We feel shame when we have been discredited for, as Aristotle would call it, some moral badness we have done such as being cowardly, greedy, arrogant, or mean. We feel shameless when we are indifferent, or contemptible, towards people’s thoughts about are moral badness.
Kind Vs Unkind
People think we are kind when we help them, especially if they need it, for their own sake. People feel we are unkind when we do not help them or when we do but for selfish reasons.
Pity Vs Indignation
We feel pity for someone who suffers undeservedly, especially if that suffering could have come upon us or someone close to us. On the other hand, we feel indignation when we see someone doing well when they don’t deserve it.
Envy Vs Emulation
People feel envious when they see someone who they thought was their equal, a peer, get some good fortune. This is especially true if they think they are entitled to that same good fortune or if they no longer feel equal with that person because of their good fortune.
On the other hand, people feel emulation when they see someone who is their equal get some good fortune that they haven’t got themselves yet but believe that they could. Both feelings are painful but emulation is better than envy. The envious person wishes that the other party did not have their good fortune. The person who feels emulation wishes themselves to have that same good fortune and is pained by not having it yet.
Humans are emotional beings. Sometimes, are emotions are justified; sometimes, feeling angry or fearful is the right response. Other times, people feel these emotions when they shouldn’t. The master persuader will know how to excite these emotions when they are justified and calm them when they are not. Now, let’s move on to the next method.
Logos: Persuasion by Logic
The last of the three methods is persuasion by logic.
A good logical argument will put forth a series of premises: statements that are either true or false. Based on these premises, a conclusion must be made. If the conclusion would be true if all of the premises were true then the argument is said to be valid. If, in fact, all of the premises are true and the argument is valid then it’s also sound. This is known as a deductive argument. Sound deductive arguments are very persuasive because they are true and they are built using logic that is easy to follow.
If we take a set of premises and derive a conclusion that is not necessarily but likely to be true then we are making an inductive argument. The strength of an inductive argument is based upon how likely the conclusion is to follow from the premises. An inductive argument is said to be cogent when all of its premises are actually true.
Finally, we have the abductive argument. This is when you collect a set of data and then determine a conclusion that best explains the set of data.
By using one of these three arguments, you can become more persuasive because people are often convinced by strong logic that is easy to follow.
In conclusion, rhetoric is important because it helps truth prevail. Some people can’t be convinced by facts alone and so it’s important to know how to persuade them. By knowing how to leverage character, emotion, and logic you can help bring the change you want to see into the world.