12 Ethos: Understanding its True Meaning

Atorian Perry

This is dedicated to the people of America, live free in the land of the free.

Keywords: Character, Spirit, Temper, Essence

“…personal satisfaction is soaring, the economy is thriving and confidence in state and local governments is growing, but neither satisfaction with the condition of the country nor confidence in the federal government has been transformed. The national mood and trust are both up from the mid-1990s, but still just 20% of Americans are highly satisfied with the state of the nation and only 34% basically trust the government” (”How Americans View Government” Pew Research Center). Have you ever felt like the government is not living up to their promises on keeping the country safe and equality between each race? How does this all relate to rhetoric and ethos?


Aristotle’s term “character” (ethos) refers to that which gives the agents of the dramatic action (our “characters”) certain ethical qualities (6 1450a5– 6, 19), and “shows what kind of choice someone makes.” To get a better understanding of Ethos, Aristotle’s term “character” (ethos) refers to that which gives the agents of the dramatic action (our “characters”) certain ethical qualities (6 1450a5– 6, 19), and “shows what kind of choice someone makes” (6 1450b8– 9, 15 1454a17– 19). Aristotle defines thought as speeches “in which people make demonstrations or reveal their opinions” (6 1450a6– 7, 1450b11– 12), and he includes under “thought” proof and refutation and the arousal of emotion (chapter 19). Style, “the composition of the verses” (6 1449b34– 5), or “verbal expression” (6 1450b13– 14), and song, which Aristotle does not define, constitute the medium of tragedy, a genre in which verses are sung as well as spoken. I care about this topic because life is full of choices that reflect on what kind of person you are and how persuasive you are to the audience. I selected ethos because it pertains to what our lives revolve around, decisions and evidence. Learning it is complex, but I do want to learn about its true meaning and why it is important in reading and writing. Why isn’t ethos used more today to ratify peace and equality within our country? Why does history continue to repeat itself?


Understanding rhetoric makes the outside environment for myself easier to understand. The world revolves around inspiration, ideas, and persuasion. Someone must be inspired to enlighten their idea to the world, present their ideas, and persuade the next person into what they think is the key to evolution. Two examples of inspirational speakers are Barbara Charline Jordan and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Barbara Charline Jordan served in the U.S. House of Representatives from the 18th district of Texas between 1973 and 1979. On July 24, 1974, she made this statement to the House Judiciary Committee regarding the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. The remarks are often cited as one of the great examples of American political oratory. Martin Luther King Jr. was an African American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the American civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. In “MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he says, “You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit in, march and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation.” MLK is expressing his character as well as how the people feel about the racial equality. “Martin Luther King is bringing attention to the authority of Lincoln and his view on civil rights. This is providing a strong ethos appeal as he establishes credibility with his audience. He also uses the Declaration of Independence to bring authority into his speech. He quotes, “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” He is saying that the American government has ignored their duty to all of the American people. He is setting up his own credibility by referring to the authority of a great American and our constitution.


When I think of Barbara Jordan and her use of Ethos in her speech on Impeaching Nixon, I think of a person who is determined to reside her point of emphasis to express her character and how her words persuade the people around her that what is happening in the U.S. and needs to be handled accordingly. She debates to determine whether to recommend that the House adopt articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon. Her words carefully close her point: “It is reason, not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision. Today I am an inquisitor. Any hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total.” She grabs the attention of the audience to express her emotion and evidence. James C. McCroskey explains, “It is fairly clear from this passage that ethos and pathos are introduced into rhetoric precisely because they have an influence on our judgments, and not because the speaker tries to improve the character of his audience. We have looked at the nature of receivers, the importance of ethos and nonverbal messages, and the nature of a persuasive argument.”


Jordan says, “Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: “We, the people” (Jordan, Par. 5). It’s a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that “We, the people” (Jordan, Par.6). I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in “We, the people.” If I were to describe her character in this speech, I would say she is a demanding critique and wants more for what she stands for, that she is a well-known woman against the government she lives under. Not only did she start her facts on how she felt but also how the people felt about the situation taking place.


Ask yourself, why is ethos such a great characteristic to have? Expertise and reputation. The ability to relate to the audience and to gain respect from others. Gaining the trust of others and knowing what is being talked about along with the evidence presented. Barbara Jordan’s speech says that her faith is deep, and she is not going to sit around and wait until justice is served. Looking back at MLK’s quote, he rebuttals with a comment that tells the people of this nation why he does what he does with the marches and sit-ins, to let people know that if you are not going to listen, we will gather more to bring you down. Both wanted freedom and respect and equality specially to happen or the world together would be worse than it ever was. As people, humans, in order for us to build, grow, and expand our work and knowledge, we must become one and work together and to pass on to the ones after us and let the growth continue.

Jordan shares her perspective on the law and what the President does to help America. Both she and MLK showed examples of ethos and gave great ideas on how to make the world a better place. Everyone everywhere is going through situations and problems that are bringing them down and tearing their civilization apart. Whether it’s riots or protests, there is always someone to step up and fix the cause. How can Ethos help in an argument or speech? Would it enlighten or go against Americans?


Works Cited


Anagnostopoulos, Georgios. A Companion to Aristotle. Wiley, 2009, ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/wfu/detail.action?docID=437490.

Halloran, S. Michael. “Aristotle’s Concept of Ethos, or If Not His Somebody Else’s.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 1, no. 1, 1982, pp. 58–63. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/465559. Accessed 14 May 2021.

“How Americans View Government.” Pew Research Center, 10 Mar. 1998, https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/1998/03/10/how-americans-view-government/.

Halliwell, Stephen, and Aristotle. Aristotle’s Poetics. University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

Jordan, Barbara. “Statement on House Judiciary Proceedings to Impeach President Richard Nixon (July 25 1974).” American Rhetoric, 10 Sept. 2019, https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/barbarajordanjudiciarystatement.htm. Accessed 12 Apr. 2021.

King Jr, Martin. “I Have A Dream (28 Aug. 1963).” U.S. Embassy & Consulate in The Republic of Korea, 11 Feb. 2020, https://kr.usembassy.gov/education-culture/infopedia-usa/living-documents-american-hist ory-democracy/martin-luther-king-jr-dream-speech-1963/


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Rhetoric in Everyday Life by Atorian Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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