14 The Power of Ethos

Lily Harding-Delooze

I dedicate this chapter to all of my selfless teachers that supported and inspired us all during school. I would especially like to thank my senior year highschool English teacher Ms Leaver for being the harshest teacher I have ever come across in my time as a student. Thank you for giving me back every one of my papers saying that it was either not good enough or it didn’t answer the question. I thank you for allowing me to raise my hand for a question, however quickly shutting me down saying that the answer wasn’t up to your standards. For this I thank you because without you making me edit my final English paper twenty times, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now.


 Keywords: Character, Mood, Morality, Values, Believability

The art of persuasion. Why do we need it? What purpose does it hold? Without persuasion, there is no expansion of the mind and without expansion of the mind, there is no learning. Persuasion allows one worldview to be transferred onto someone else. In rhetoric, one of the forms of proof, ways to persuade, is ethos. Ethos is an element of argument and persuasion whereby a writer and/or speaker demonstrate their knowledge and believability, as well as their character. Ethos is important as it allows a writer to build trust with the audience and convince them that what they are saying is true.


In today’s society, ethos is used extensively in many environments. In my environment, ethos is used for acceptability and trust. This can happen through social media and in the working world. The more well-known you are as a person and your ability to connect with an audience, the higher acceptance and following you will receive.


The word ethos comes from the Greek word meaning “moral character” and was formulated by the Greek philosopher Aristotle in his book on Rhetoric. Through ethos, a speaker’s credibility, status, professionalism, and research compel reflection of one’s own life and experiences in the world. Ethos allows historical moments to be remembered and used in today’s society as a way for positive learning and understanding. Ethos, however, allows a person to gain power over an audience in a negative way, with a possible monumental impact on society.


Ethos through history creates powerful and positive learning and understanding for those of today. Influential figures of Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan all have an extreme influence on an audience due to their character. These individuals have brought enormous change into the world, as they have changed the minds and attitudes of many.


Muhammad Ali is considered one of one of the greatest sporting figures of the 20th century. Muhammad Ali’s impact goes far beyond the boxing ring as he was not just a monumental athlete, but he also fought tirelessly for civil rights. He confronted issues such as racism not only throughout his community, but the entire world. His professionalism and the way he spoke to an audience influenced society. Ali’s large personality and refusal to conform to expectations of how a public figure should act surpassed sports and made him a global icon. Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War and as a result was arrested, stripped of his titles, and banned from boxing for three years. Ali gave his religious reasons for not entering the war and became the first national figure to speak out against the war in Vietnam, thus becoming a voice for America at the time. Ali spoke openly about his rights and ethics as an individual stating that “Freedom means being able to follow your religion, but it also means carrying the responsibility to choose between right and wrong…I knew people were dying in Vietnam for nothing and I knew I should live by what I thought was right.” It is therefore through his ethos that he gained followers and advocated for compassion and justice. Therefore, he made a change and positive difference in the world.


Another historical figure that had a huge impact on society is Ronald Raegan. The credibility gained by President Ronald Reagan in his speeches is due to his ethos. He gained his authority through his effective communication skills and his excellent rhetoric. One of the most compelling speeches of all time was given on January 28th, 1986, following the tragic explosion of the NASA Challenger spacecraft, killing all on board. The address given by Raegan stopped the nation and the world. Raegan was able to use his ethos to gain trust and form a connection with the American people. In his speech, he stated “We don’t keep secrets and cover things up.” This statement made the audience feel a sense of trust and connectedness. He also mentioned in the speech that he “always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it.” His ethos here grabbed the attention of the audience to reassure them that what he is saying is sincere. In times of shock, this speech given by Ronald Raegan gave strength to the American people.


Furthermore, the historical figure of Martin Luther King Jr used ethos to empower many and create a change within society. There is no question that one of the most unforgettable and widely recognized speeches in America’s history is “I Have a Dream.” This speech was given at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on the 28th of August 1963. It marked the beginning of a new era in Black history. King used his powerful rhetoric, in particular ethos, to show people a new beginning and persuade them to stand united. King started his speech with the lines, “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.” These words automatically sent the messages that the speech would change the livelihoods of Americans, in particular, African Americans. How King spoke, he painted a picture of a beautiful dream-like nation where peace and prosperity flourish, which ultimately built his ethos.


Ethos persuades an audience to make decisions that have a great impact on the community. For example, it is through ethos that advertising companies get people to buy their products. Credible sporting figures use their platform to persuade an audience to buy a product or take interest in something. In advertising, ethos aims to convince the audience that the advertiser is reliable and ethical. For example, a recent commercial for Infiniti featured Steph Curry, who is very credible in the sport of basketball and has many followers. Even though he’s not known for his experience in vehicles, his reputation supports the product. Another sporting example is Lebron James who has been endorsing Sprite through campaigns and advertisements since 2003. Because of their credibility and fame, people are more likely to buy the product. I see a lot of this in today’s society all over social media and on television.


It is through ethos that a speaker’s credibility, status, professionalism, and research compel the reflection of one’s own life and experiences in the world. Ethos allows historical moments to be remembered and used in today’s society as a way for positive learning and understanding. Ethos convinces an audience to carry out a specific task that positively affects the economy. Ethos allows a person to gain power over an audience in a negative way which has a monumental impact on society as a whole. Historical moments are remembered and used in today’s society as a way for positive learning and understanding through the use of ethos. Many influential figures such as Muhammad Ali, Ronald Reagan, and Martin Luther King Jr., explain how ethos is used in an empowering and positive light. Furthermore, the credibility of an individual can also persuade an audience to carry out positive things.

Works Cited


Ali M., 1967 Muhammad Ali Quotes

Aristotle, and Theodore Buckley. Aristotle’s Treatise On Rhetoric.

Bienert, N., 2021. Challenger Address Rhetorical Analysis. [online] Nlbpsu.wixsite.com. Available at: <https://nlbpsu.wixsite.com/nicolebienert/testimonials/i94mhjrs98/Challenger-Address-Rhetorical-Analysis>

Gaiman, N, 2021. What is ethos? (online). https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-ethos-definition-of-ethos-with-examples#how-is-ethos-affected-by-pathos-and-logos.

Games, &., League, N., Sports, O., BB, R., FB, R. and Games, X., 2021 The importance of Muhammad Ali. . [online] ESPN.com. <https://www.espn.com/sports/boxing/ali/news/story?id=2236712> [Accessed 14 March 2021].

King, Martin Luther Jr. “I Have a Dream Speech”

Reagan R . Jan. 28, 1986, “Challenger Speech”

Studiobinder, 2021,  “How To Make Better Commercials With Ethos”. https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/what-is-ethos-examples/#:~:text=Ethos%20is%20used%20as%20a,brand%20a%20testimonial%20or%20endorsement.


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Rhetoric in Everyday Life Copyright © 2021 by Lily Harding-Delooze is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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