Saturday, September 8, 2012

#251 / Ethos

Ethos, Logos, and Pathos are a rhetorical 1,2, 3. They comprise the "rhetorical triangle." If I am correct, we build "our" world, the "human world," the "political world," from words. Ethos, Logos, and Pathos are the elements with which we build it.

Within the context of that rhetorical triangle, here is what one book says about Ethos:

Ethos refers to the trustworthiness or credibility of the writer or speaker. Ethos is often conveyed through tone and style of the message and through the way the writer or speaker refers to differing views. It can also be affected by the writer's reputation as it exists independently from the message--his or her expertise in the field, his or her previous record or integrity.... The impact of ethos is often called the argument's "ethical appeal" or the "appeal from credibility."
Ramage and Bean, Writing Arguments, 4th Edition. Allyn & Bacon, 1998, 81-82

Former President Bill Clinton is credible when he talks about government, and about building a vibrant economy. He has "been there." He has "done that." His powerful nominating speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention was founded on his credibility.There is another sense in which the word "Ethos" is used. As Wikipedia puts it:

Ethos can simply mean the disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement. Ethos refers to the spirit which motivates the ideas and customs [of a civilization].

Outside the boundaries of rhetoric, inside the "real" world - the world we construct with words - we will define the civilization we inhabit.

I think President Obama was right, in his speech at the convention, to say that the choice before us in the 2012 election is, in fact, a choice between two different kinds of worlds, between two different visions for the future. And we can choose which vision we wish to pursue for the world we build.

In the upcoming election, the American people will choose their Ethos. Will it be every person for him or herself? Or are we in this together?

No question where I stand. I am coming down on the side of President Obama.

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