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Ethos as a Persuasive Tool

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In our daily routines, we are quite often faced with the challenge of passing across our arguments in the most catching manner: whether in writing or speaking. This in itself requires a high sense of persuasion. Persuasion is majorly determined and achieved by the character of the speaker, sympathy of the audience and the logic of the message being passed across. In order to be an effective writer or speaker, it is important that you understand rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of effective writing or speaking with an aim of effective persuasion. It is divided into three main forms: ethos, logos and pathos. This assignment is all about ethos as a persuasive tool in argumentive writing and argumentive speeches. The main aim of argumentive writings and speeches is to persuade your audience that your ideas are valid, or more valid than someone else's.

Ethos depends on the personal character of the speaker. The speaker always has an intention of appearing ‘credible’. Pathos is based on the emotional influence of an audience because emotions actually affect the judgments. Logos is based on the logical reason. The speaker wants too present an argument that is sound to the audience by means of apparent truths.

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Thesis statement

The ethos of a speaker is demonstrated from the start. This can be through moral competence, expertise, personal knowledge and history of the speaker. Respect plays a major role in persuasion. People tend to believe those that they respect a lot.

Ethos is a Greek word meaning ‘’character’’. Ethos as a form of rhetoric is thus the influence of the character of the speaker to the effectiveness of the message being communicated to the audience. The influence of ethos on the speech of the speaker is called the argument's 'ethical appeal'.

Ethos is portrayed through voice variations, gestures, body movement, body language, facial expressions and proxemics. All these are transmitted by both the para-verbal and non-verbal factors (Miller, 1974).

There are three types of ethos namely phronesia, arête and eunoia. Phronesia is the class of ethos that deals with wisdom, knowledge and practical skills. Arête is a class of ethos that deals with the goodness and virtues of an action while eunoia deals with the goodwill of the speaker towards the audience. All these can be either intrinsic or extrinsic. Extrinsic ethos is earned by previous performances, education background or experience while intrinsic ethos is earned by the text or speech itself.

According to Aristotle, there are three prerequisites to appear credible: competence, good intention and empathy (Halloran, 1982). Competence is portrayed by the audience having a pre-set mind about something. This is usually determined by a specific history set by a specific organization. For example, someone working for NASA will be given great attention than someone working for a less superior company. Good intention also plays a big role in forming a deformed mind about the speaker. Empathy is determined by the ability of the audience to ‘wear’ the speaker’s feelings and walk with them throughout the presentation. Usually, the audience takes a journey through the speaker’s emotions and lands on the soft-spot. Empathy is basically determined by the power of understanding of the audience. Thus, empathy is like a bridge between ethos and pathos.

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In rhetoric analysis, it is the result that matters and not the aims. As a result of the resultant result, it is a harsh judgment to say that the speaker used some aspects knowingly or unknowingly. Consequently, there is nothing like a general ‘’good’’ or ‘’bad’’ presentation. Instead, the presentation can only be ‘’functional’’ or ‘’dysfunctional’’. No special fruits should be reserved for the ‘’knowingly’’ reasons; no criticism should be reserved for the ‘’unknowingly’’ reasons. This is because in rhetoric analysis, it is the end that satisfies the means; not the means satisfying the ends.

Ethos is a very tricky subject because it can be faked and be manipulated like a puppet. This is because in any given real society, individuals would be formed by the values of their culture and not the culture being formed by the values of the individuals.According to Reynolds Nedra, ‘’ ethos shifts and changes over time, across texts, and around competing spaces’’ (Reynolds, 1993). This is absolutely true. Many speakers faking their stage characters to win their audiences are a common practice. This is a violation of ethos.

Just like any other subject, ethos is also violated in very many other ways. A speaker speaking about an unfamiliar area of specialization is violation of ethics. For example, a lawyer giving a talk about space science amounts to ethos violation (Reynolds, 1993).

Ethos is majorly influenced by first impressions, appearances and factors that affect the appearance-factor. It is influenced by factors such as clothes, vocabulary, slang, and popularity, social and economic status. All in all, the speaker can position himself in the middle of his arguments. For example, by revealing his background and social hierarchies, a speaker may be given a different level of concentration.

Ethos is transmitted from the speaker and determined by the audience and not the other way round. By this it means the main instrument for measuring the ethos of a speaker is the audience. The speaker may do his best to influence the results, but it is the audience who will say, this speaker was of ‘high-ethos’ or ‘low-ethos’. Thus, the speaker does not own ethos; it is the audience who owns ethos (Reynolds, 1993).

Many people tend to ignore sculptures and paintings while dealing with ethos. To me, pictorial narratives play a big role in influencing the ethos; they give a first impression. Just like drama and poetry, they also convey ethical subjects and themes effectively (Castriota, 1992). Professor Mark D. Stansbury-O’Donnell argues that pictorial narratives have ethos as its main focus and are thus concerned with portraying the characters of the main character in the narrative. He says that the effect of pictorial narratives on subsequent actions is equal to that of poetry.

Before a speaker starts his speech, many people would have already formed a deformed mind about the speaker. Respect plays a major role in persuasion. People tend to believe those that they respect a lot. We are naturally influenced by people we think have personal warmth, consideration of others, a good mind and solid learning. But ant writer well versed with his subject can change the credibility in the course of his presentations.

Pictorial narratives should also be used to judge the ethos. This is because they have a big influence on the subsequent actions. They give an impression of the real life.

Knowingly or unknowingly, the speaker can influence his audience. No special acknowledgment should be reserved for the ‘’knowingly’’; no criticism should be reserved for the ‘’unknowingly’’. This is because in rhetoric analysis, special attention should be focused to the result and not the aim of doing it.

An effective speaker is thus the one whose message is thus persuasive and with less jargon.

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