I argued in a recent article that all three of Aristotle’s famous appeals are important.
I noted that Ethos is the appeal to trustworthiness. It involves a speaker’s credibility, authority, character, and so on. Logos is the appeal to logic. It involves a speaker’s evidence and reasoning. Pathos is the appeal to emotion. It involves the speaker’s emotional impact. I illustrated how these three appeals work together partly by posting this illuminating Pinterest image:
But I also pointed out that each one of the three appeals should play the starring role at a different stage in your message. I said that logos should come through clearest during the body of your message.
Here’s what I wrote about LOGOS:
|Once you have persuaded your audience to trust you, it is essential that you live up to that trust by providing messages that make sense based on evidence and reasoning. To do this well, you must have a clear message in mind, and you must back it up with sound logic and reasoning. Consider the following tactics: |
Use dependable evidence. Specifically, make sure your evidence is reliable, recent, and relevant. I discussed these principles in detail in a separate blog, but they merit a reminder here. Use varied forms of evidence. Audiences love numbers and studies and charts and graphs, but they also get bored if they hear too much of the same sort of thing. Diversify the types of evidence you use by also including testimonies from experts or relevant events from history or even your own personal experience if it applies. Use strong reasoning. Listing a bunch of evidence is great, but explaining that evidence to the audience is an underrated skill. A good communicator will use analogies to help the audience understand the evidence, or they will show how the evidence reveals important cause-and-effect relationships, or they will show how the evidence reinforces the main point of the message.
EXAMPLE (cont.): Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” Address: Logos Analysis
As I noted in the previous article on crafting ethos appeals, Barack Obama’s famous “A More Perfect Union Address” illustrates the power of the three appeals and their proper sequence. Obama’s speech is a carefully crafted response to a controversy surrounding his former Christian pastor, Jeremiah Wright, whose comments on U.S. history had rubbed some Americans the wrong way. The controversy became serious enough that Obama felt he needed to address the matter publicly.
After establishing his ethos firmly at the beginning of the address, Obama launched into a series of logical arguments, using a variety of evidence and reasoning to make his case, which is that Americans need to move past their emotional reaction to Wright’s words and consider the complexities of race in America more closely. For, “if we simply retreat into our respective corner, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges . . .”
Argument from experience:
|“He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect.”|
Argument from comparison:
|“I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and wh on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe. These people are a part of me. And they are part of America.”|
Argument from example:
|“Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, (Trinity) . . . contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and, yes, the bitterness and biases that make up the black experience in America.”|
Argument from the historical record:
|Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. . . . We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist between the African-American community and the larger American community today can be traced directly to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” |
Obama then comments on: The nation’s history of segregated, inferior schools, which are a legacy of Brown v. Board of Education. The nation’s history of legalized discrimination – “where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business wonders, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions or the police force or the fire department,” all of which helps to explain the nation’s racial wealth gap. The nation’s history of providing poor public services to black neighborhoods, such as “parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pickup, building code enforcement.”
Crucially, Obama uses the evidence he provides to reinforce his main argument: that racial tension is a complex issue, and that to become distracted by one black pastor’s indignation is to miss a much larger and more important point, which is that we should not become victims of our past and that we should move forward in unity to a more perfect future.
He is not content just to reference Brown v. Board of Education and expect his audience to get the picture. Nor is he satisfied with simply saying he never personally heard Wright make offensive racial comments.
He provides these evidences, but then he connects them to an argument. In other words, he provides warrants for his evidence. He concludes at one point: “Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle-class squeeze.”
Obama could have done more by way of citing particular data to show how our historical prejudices have led to wrong thinking by both white and black Americans, but he does a remarkable job of sticking to logic. As the examples above show, he tries to walk his listeners through the complex reasons that comments like those of Jeremiah Wright are even possible and even likely, given the nation’s long history of racial resentments.
That is not to say, however, that he ignores emotion and ethos altogether in the body of this speech. To the contrary, these elements are easily identifiable throughout “A More Perfect Union,” but he lets reasoning be the foundation of the argument.
Having established a strong ethos early in his famous address “A More Perfect Union,” Obama launches into a string of evidence- and reason-based arguments for his claim that the United States must not be distracted by Wright’s out-of-context comments. Instead, the nation should use this opportunity to explore its complex past in order to move beyond it. Now that he has made his key arguments to this end, he is ready to conclude his address with a targeted emotional appeal, so that his audience can come away feeling optimistic and confident about Obama’s leadership.
Ben Crosby is a professor of rhetoric and a communication skills consultant. He teaches courses in public speaking and presenting, argumentation and debate, technical and professional communication, persuasion and selling, and the history of rhetoric.
His work is regularly published in his field’s top academic journals and conferences. He is also the author of Presentations as Performance: A Professional’s Guide to Better Speaking.
Ben’s areas of expertise are Public Speaking, Presentation Skills, Argumentation, Sales Training, and Professional Writing.
In his free time, he spends time with his wife, Rebecca, their four kids, and their cat, Arza. He is an avid Utah Jazz fan.