17 The Power of Pathos II

Amy Harding-Delooze

Keywords: Emotions, Feelings, Inspiration, Persuasion




Pathos is all around you. From beauty products that promise to relieve physical insecurities, advertisements on TV, political speeches, the book you are currently reading, to even cars that make you give you a sense of power, relies on pathos. If something I listen to, read, or watch, appeals to me emotionally or has an emotional impact on me then this will resonate with me for a long time. I utilise pathos in everyday life and pathos is an important rhetorical tool. I chose this rhetorical tool as I am knowledgeable about it and believe that it is crucial in understanding the unique emotions of individuals and communities.


In today’s age of technology, pathos is an effective mode of persuasion. It has the ability to persuade and grasp the emotions and feelings of the audience through many modes of communication. Aristotle’s book On Rhetoric describes the origins of pathos and allows for a deeper understanding of the concept. Characters in literature use pathos to convince themselves and the audience of a certain viewpoint. Politicians understand the power of emotion and harness pathos to create a successful appeal. Advertisements use pathos to appeal to the emotions of a target audience.


Aristotle’s book On Rhetoric identifies pathos as the emotional mode of persuasion and how it appeals to the feelings and emotions of the audience. As Aristotle said, “Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile.” For Aristotle, the pathos appeal was viewed as an artistic appeal belonging to the development of the rational argument. He argued that it is not enough to know the dominant emotions of a listener but having a deeper understanding of the values of the listener and how they motivate an emotional response is specific and essential to understanding pathos in terms of specific individuals and behaviours. Pathos compared to other modes of persuasion relies on not only the content of what is being said but also takes into account the tone and expression of delivery. In literature, pathos is used to convince characters of a certain viewpoint and create drama and reveal something interesting about a character. For example, in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, the relationship between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet is described by George Wickham. His goal is to endear himself to Elizabeth and turn her away from Mr Darcy and hide the truth. In Chapter 16, Wickham claims that Mr Darcy robbed him of his intended profession out of greed and that Mr Darcy’s “true” nature shall not be revealed concerning this issue. Wickham uses Pathos successfully in the form of a personal story, forcing Elizabeth to feel sympathy, admiration, and romantic interest towards him.


The power of emotion and appealing to the feelings of the audience is central to successful politicians as well as the policies and ideologies that they implement. Barack Obama’s 2013 Address to the nation on Syria speech and Obama’s tragic descriptions of civilians that had lost their lives as a result of the attack provoked an emotional response and helped him mobilize American sentiment in favour of U.S. intervention. Also, Ronald Regan’s 1987 ‘Tear Down This Wall’ speech moved the audience to feel outraged at the Walls existence by referring to it as a ‘scar’ and excited and invigorated the audience by demanding Gorbachev, the president of the Soviet Union, to “tear down this wall!”


In advertising, the emotional association with a brand is the main goal and advertisers spend a lot of time and money trying to understand exactly what Aristotle describes as the building blocks of pathos which are emotional who, what, why of a target audience. For example, a Rolex advertisement featuring soccer star David Beckham wouldn’t necessarily convey anything special about the watch itself but would cater to the target audience of male professionals to cause them to associate the Rolex brand with David Beckham.


Pathos is seen as the least substantial or legitimate rhetorical tool as people’s emotions are all different and are interpreted in various ways. Logos appeals to listeners’ sense of reason through the presentation of facts and a well-structured argument whereas ethos relies on the speaker’s credentials and reputation. Although Aristotle argues that all three are equally important, both logos and ethos may appear more concrete as they are more evidence-based than pathos, which appeals to listeners’ emotions. Facts, statistics, credentials, and personal history can be easily manipulated or fabricated to win the confidence of an audience.


Pathos is a powerful tool, enabling speakers to persuade their listeners into action or to support a desired outcome or cause. Speechwriters, politicians, and advertisers use pathos to influence their audience to a desired belief or action. Due to the emotional impact it has on the audience, pathos is the most effective mode of persuasion.


Works Cited

Aristotle, W R. Roberts, Ingram Bywater, Friedrich Solmsen, and Aristotle. On Rhetoric. New York: Modern Library, 1954. Print.

Duke, Rodney K.. The Persuasive Appeal of the Chronicler: A Rhetorical Analysis, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/wfu/detail.action?docID=436400

Examples of Pathos in Literature, Rhetoric and Music. ttps://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-pathos.html. Accessed 11 May 2021.

Haenggi, Martin. “Meta Distributions–Part 1 Definition and Examples.” IEEE Communications Letters, 2021, pp. 1–1. DOI.org (Crossref), doi10.1109/LCOMM.2021.3069662.

Varpio, Lara. “Using Rhetorical Appeals to Credibility, Logic, and Emotions to Increase Your Persuasiveness.” Perspectives on Medical Education, vol. 7, no. 3, June 2018, pp. 207–10, doi10.1007/s40037-018-0420-2.


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

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