What happened to Ethos?

I was reading an article on Partial Objects that had this image at the bottom, with the text:

There’s the question then: How do you shift the argument from pathos to logos for someone who’s firmly stuck on the emotional side of the issues? And where the hell did ethos go?

Yeah, where the hell did ethos go? How do we get it back?

Ethos is a Greek word meaning, “character,” the guiding principles behind a community, nation or ideology. It is also the root for the word, “ethics.”

The triangle above is a representation of the 3 artistic proofs (methods of persuasion) in classical rhetoric, along with, Pathos – an appeal to emotion, and Logos – an appeal to logic.

It seems to me that too many of our current political discussions take place purely in the realm of Pathos. I can understand why people avoid Logos, modern Americans find logic boring. Logic doesn’t move us, inspire us or appeal to our decision making process in a way that would make it useful for political argument. In fact, use of logic tends to get politicians derided as elitist.

But, there is always Ethos. Ethos can win where Logos fails.

How do you use Ethos?

Well, the difficulty with Ethos is that it is purely in the mind of the audience…

The trick with Ethos is to point out what makes you credible from an ethical standpoint – and what makes your opponent non-credible.

When a Republican says we should lower taxes on the wealthy the Democrats should point out the obvious conflict of interest – most politicians (and their friends and supporters) are wealthy. Obama has been almost doing this by reminding everyone that he is wealthy when he talks about raising taxes, but I think he should go further.

I still feel that the American spirit is alive and well. We may not be as tied to logic as perhaps we once were, but ethics is part of us still. No one likes a hypocrite.

We should once again turn to crafting the American image. One of community, equality and freedom.

An Argument

Why do we have dividend taxes? Because in America we work for a living.

Why do we have estate taxes? Because in America you make your own way.

Why do we tax the rich more? Because they have 200 times more money, but don’t do 200 times more work .

That isn’t equality or fairness or the American way. We broke from England, not to get out of paying taxes, but to pay them on our own terms. It was about fairness, no taxation without representation. The burden falls on each person, according to their ability – the more ability you have, the more burden you get. There needs to be a price for success – that is how equality is maintained.

America was a break from the past – when you were entitled to riches because distant relatives earned them. When power came through birth and was absolute. In America you don’t get the right to rule, you have to earn the privilege from the people. In America you don’t get to be rich, that to you must earn, and you must pay your dues…

You don’t get rich without the working/middle class giving you money. They took care of you, it is only fair and equal that you take care of them – the America that gave you the opportunity of wealth.


For those who don’t know me, I’m not rich, but I do alright. I happily pay my taxes and would gladly pay more if it would help the country. That is what real patriotism is.


3 thoughts on “What happened to Ethos?

  1. By the time I was finished being born, I had absolute power. The universe knelt before my awesomeness before the cord was cut.

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  2. Great points raised as always. Excellent content and excellent content as always. I’m Tweeting about this now!

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