Aristotle's Three Proofs: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos

Along with the rhetorical triangle, Aristotle named three types of appeals – or what he called the "three proofs" – that rhetor/writer/speaker should use as means of persuasion. In classical Greek, the three proofs are known as ethos, logos, and pathos.

Watch the videos and read the definitions for each proof to learn more about these persuasive appeals:

Ethos (Greek for 'character') refers to how trustworthy or credible the speaker or writer is and how knowledgeable he or she is concerning a subject. If the audience is familiar with the speaker or writer, then her reputation will be important here. Is she an expert in the field? Does she have relevant experience? If the speaker or writer is unknown to the audience, then she will need to establish ethos solely through the text itself. Ethos is often conveyed through tone and style of the message and through the way the writer or speaker refers to differing views. Writers and speakers use ethos when they connect their argument to their audience's own set of views.

Pathos (Greek for 'suffering' or 'experience'), while often associated with emotions, is more broadly an appeal that draws upon the audience's emotions, sympathies, interests, and/or imagination. With an appeal to pathos, the audience is encouraged to identify with the speaker or writer – to feel or experience what the writer feels. As the meaning of pathos implies, the audience "suffers," in the realm of the imagination, what the rhetor suffers.

Logos (Greek for 'word') refers to the clarity of the message's claim, its logic, and the effectiveness of its supporting evidence. The audience should be able to follow a clear progression of concepts backed up with reasonable and appropriate details.

Writing Assignment

Dr. King was a masterful rhetorician. He understood and utilized the three appeals to great effect in his public speeches and writings.

Using the Three Proofs PDF form below, read again the first six paragraphs of Dr. King's letter, and label each highlighted section as either an appeal to ethos, logos, or pathos by selecting the appropriate label from the drop-down menu.

Then, in the space provided below King's text, in one to two paragraphs, analyze King's use of each of the three proofs. Describe how his use of each proof strengthens or weakens his appeals to the other proofs. Be sure to support your answers with examples from the letter. Save the PDF file, and submit a copy of the completed assignment to your teacher.

Three Proofs PDF form