Classical Rhetorical Strategies in Persuasive Essays

        If you are reading an author trained during a period when Aristotle's Rhetoric would have been considered an authoritative school text, you may well find the work using specific types of persuasive strategies recommended by Aristotle.  Aristotle's three types of persuasion are appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos.  Modern English has no accurate single-word synonyms for these terms, but you can get close with these paraphrases:

1)  Appeal to one's own reputation for or performance of honesty and wisdom (also known as "ethical persona," but not necessarily the same as "being ethical"--rhetoric is about persuasion, not philosophy).

2)  Appeal to the audience's emotions or sympathies

3)  Appeal to logic and evidence from sources other than the author's or readers' own experience.

        Often the appeals are combined, such as an appeal to logic that ends with an appeal to emotions, or an appeal to one's reputation in order to establish one as a reputable source of the evidence which follows.  Even when the appeals are made in separate sentences, if they follow each other in sequences, the patterns of their effects may be studied just like key changes or major and minor chord patterns in music.  Also, each appeal can be undercut or can fail catastrophically if the author underestimates the audiences' ability to judge ethos, overestimates or otherwise mistakes their response to pathos, or fails to manipulate logic and evidence properly, using logical fallacies or suspect evidence.

        If you succumb to the temptation to search the Internet for "Rhetorical Appeals," you will find a great many web pages devoted to the use of this analytical strategy for teaching college students to write and to analyze writing.  Be careful not to reduce each sentence in an argument to a single appeal, however, since any experienced author is likely to combine them for increased persuasive effect, "pushing the readers' buttons" in patterns that prevent resistance to any one type of appeal.  Your task as an analyst looking for a non-obvious insight about your text is to discover the patterns competent but casual readers are unlikely to detect, and to imagine reasons why the patterns might evade our first-reading detection in order to persuade us.

       To cite Aristotle instead of this lowly web page, look him up at the MIT online copy of W. Rhys Roberts' standard English translation of his text.  You can find the passage in which Aristotle introduces these three types of persuasion in Book 1, Part 2.   You also may find that Aristotle can teach you still more about how to understand what your author is doing to his audience with artfully chosen words.