While there's no infallible formula for winning over every reader in every circumstance, you should learn how and when to use three fundamental argumentative appeals. According to Aristotle, a person who wants to convince another may appeal to that person's reason (logos), ethics (ethos), or emotion (pathos).

The writer's job is to weave the various appeals into a single convincing argument.

If we think of these three appeals as independent and of the writer as choosing just one, however, we miss the point. The writer's job is to weave the various appeals into a single convincing argument. As you continue to expand and develop your ideas, look for ways of combining the three appeals to create a sound, balanced argument.


Reason

Briefly, informal reasoning requires clearly linking your general claims with concrete, specific data. Much of the clear thinking we do in our everyday lives follows logical principles, but in a less formal and systematic way than the thinking of a research scientist. And for most occasions this informal reasoning is adequate. Aristotle points out that it would be just as much a mistake to expect certain proofs in argument as to expect only probable proofs in mathematics. That's not to say your argument can be illogical, only that you shouldn't confuse formal logic with clear thinking or good sense, the essential qualities your argument should display. Briefly, informal reasoning requires clearly linking your general claims with concrete, specific data.

When our thinking begins with specifics and moves toward a generalization, we are moving inductively.

When our thinking begins with specifics and moves toward a generalization, we are moving inductively. That is, if you were to taste several hard, green apples and then draw the general conclusion that all hard, green apples are sour, you would be using inductive reasoning. And, of course, the more apples tasted and the greater the variation in the times and conditions of tasting, the greater the likelihood that your general conclusion would be valid.

In your writing, then, when you reason inductively, ask whether you've examined the evidence carefully, whether it justifies your general conclusion, and whether you've given readers enough specific evidence to persuade them that your thinking is sound and your general conclusion is true.

Reasoning that moves in the opposite direction (from general to specific) is called deductive reasoning.

Reasoning that moves in the opposite direction (from general to specific) is called deductive reasoning. Here, you take a general principle that you know to be true and use it to understand a specific situation. For instance, you may know from experience that as a general rule bad weather reduces business at the golf course. You may also learn that today's weather will be cold and rainy. From these two pieces of knowledge, you can produce a third, more specific piece: Business at the golf course will be slow today. In writing, deductive reasoning most often appears in a shortened version (called an enthymeme) that may be hard to recognize. That's because one or more links in the chain of reason have not been stated directly but only implied. Consider the following example:

Bill never turns in his assignments, so he'll fail the course.

What is not directly stated but only implied is the general principle that students who don't turn in their assignments will fail the course.

Such shortened forms are perfectly acceptable, but only if the underlying links and claims are sound. An opponent may want to refute you by challenging some underlying assumptions in your thinking; likewise, you'll want to look for faulty reasoning when you refute your opposition.

Activity

8.6 Read the following statements and comment on their use of informal reasoning. What details would you need to see in order to be convinced? Can you find any unstated assumptions that need to be examined?

a. Coach Ratcliffe should be fired because a coach's job is to win ballgames.

b. I know he's popular because he drives a Corvette.

c. The president hasn't done anything about welfare reform, so he has no sympathy for the poor.

d. The Sun Belt continues to be the fastest-growing part of the country.

e. Too much smoking ruins a person's health, so you know Louisa's in bad shape.

f. Today's prisons are practically like country clubs.

g. Because several new schools have been built in the past few years, Chicago has an outstanding school system.

h. Imported cars are higher in quality than American cars.

i. Mr. Price got the contract, so you know he paid a few people off.

j. Arthur Jensen should be elected to the city council because he is a successful real estate developer.

8.7 Look over the following examples, fill in any missing links in the reasoning chain, and comment on the uses of informal logic:

Claim: Coach Ratcliffe should be fired.
Link: A coach's job is to win ballgames.
Data: The team had a 4 and 6 record this year. They had a 3 and 7 record last year. They had a 1 and 9 record the previous year.

Claim: Arthur Jensen Should be elected to the City Council.
Link: The best person is the most experienced.
Data: Arthur has served two terms on the council. His opponent has never been on the council. Arthur is a successful real estate developer.

Claim: Omaha has an outstanding school system.
Link:
Data: The buildings are well-maintained. Most schools have computers. Several new schools have been built in the past few years.

Claim:
Link: Fair grading policies give every student an equal opportunity to succeed.
Data: Pop quizzes in H240 discriminate against students who prefer to cram for tests. Attendance policies in H240 discriminate against students who must work during class times. Writing assignments in H240 favor students with access to word processors.

 


Ethics

No matter how solid your reasoning, readers may not accept your argument unless they're also convinced that you're a person of wisdom, honesty, and good will. If you misrepresent the evidence, misunderstand the implications of your own value structure, or seek to hurt some individual or group, you can expect to alienate your readers.

The appeal to character is often subtle, affecting readers almost unconsciously, yet often decisively.

If you misrepresent the evidence, misunderstand the implications of your own value structure, or seek to hurt some individual or group, you can expect to alienate your readers.

"Ah, I see. This writer pretends to be a friend of Mexican-Americans, but her word choice shows that she understands almost nothing of our culture. And her proposal would undermine our whole way of life. Of course, she'd get to build her apartments, and it's obvious that's all she really cares about."

If you realize that readers are likely to analyze your character and intentions this way, you'll see that the best way to put ethical appeal in your writing is to build a strong, healthy relationship with your readers. Convince them that they can trust you to be fair, honest, well-informed, and wellintentioned. Then, having established that trust, don't betray it.

Activity

8.8 Letting 10 represent the highest and 1 the lowest, rate the following public figures for their appeal to character. Of course, you'll be considering more than just writing, but the activity should still give you some insight into what ethos is and how it affects credibility. When you've finished, compare your ratings with those of a partner. Discuss the reasons for your scoring.

a. Abraham Lincoln

b. Adolf Hitler

c. Oprah Winfrey

d. Mel Gibson

e. William J. Clinton

f. Bill Gates

g. Andy Rooney

h. Jay Leno

i. Brittney Spears

j. George W. Bush

 


Emotion

Many people believe that emotional appeals by their very nature subvert reason and are therefore better left to TV hucksters than to writers who want their ideas taken seriously. Because this common view has some validity, emotional appeals must be used with restraint and discretion, or they may prove counterproductive. Nevertheless, while an argument founded mostly on feelings and emotions may be superficial and biased, an argument that is carefully reasoned and honestly presented probably won't be hurt by a bit of pathos. In fact, it may be helped.

... emotional appeals must be used with restraint and discretion, or they may prove counterproductive.

One way to build pathos is to illustrate or dramatize an idea. This may involve little more than folding short descriptive and narrative examples into the argument. Are you arguing that your city needs to take stiffer measures against drunk drivers? Why not find a place to include a description of the face of a child who was injured in an accident caused by drinking? Or you might want to tell the story of a driver who caused several accidents because the individual's license was never revoked. Including such narrative and descriptive passages can help readers feel the urgency of your proposition so that it gets beyond the level of abstract intellectual speculation and becomes a matter of immediate human concern.

Careful word choice also influences an argument's emotional appeal. With this in mind, you might review the discussion of The Best Word in Revising Your Writing. The point here is that the overall emotional texture of your argument is the result of many individual choices about which word to use.

Should I speak of "drunk" or "intoxicated" drivers?

Should I call them a "menace" or a "concern"?

Should they be "thrown into jail" or "incarcerated"?

Do we need to "teach them a lesson" or "make them aware of the consequences of their actions"?

Such choices, even though they must be made one at a time, can't be seen as independent of each other. Their force is cumulative. They communicate how you feel-and by implication think the reader ought to feelabout your subject. If you want the reader to identify with you emotionally, you'll choose words carefully, making sure they're appropriate for you as a writer, for your readers, and for your overall purpose in writing.

Activity

8.9 Read the following speech by Mark Anthony from William Shakespeare's play, Jubus Caesar. Do you think Mark Anthony is appealing to the emotions of his audience? If so, what is his purpose in doing so? What parts of the speech seem especially designed to appeal to the audience's feelings? Does the speech contain any appeal to reason? To character? Are the various appeals balanced and harmonious or unbalanced and contradictory?

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious;
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest--
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.