Thank You for Arguing

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Ethos Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Ethos Theme Icon
Pathos Theme Icon
Logos Theme Icon
Demonstrative vs. Deliberative Rhetoric Theme Icon
Rhetoric and Ethics Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Thank You for Arguing, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Ethos Theme Icon

In Thank You for Arguing, Jay Heinrichs studies rhetoric, the art of arguing. Over the course of the book, he categorizes this art in many different ways; however, the most important distinction he draws is the distinction between three different methods of convincing an audience of a point. The first such method is ethos, the ancient Greek word for an argument from character. Whether they’re aware of it or not, audiences are more likely to agree with an argument when they respect the character of the person who makes it. Over the course of the book, Heinrichs writes about which aspects of a rhetorician’s character are most relevant to ethos, and how to emphasize them in an argument.

In order to analyze ethos more clearly, Heinrichs (borrowing from the Greek philosopher Aristotle) divides it into three categories. The first component of ethos is disinterest. An audience is most likely to trust speakers whom they perceive to be selfless and uninterested in bettering their own situations. The second component of ethos is virtue, understood in the sense of upholding an audience’s values. It’s not always enough for an audience to believe that a speaker respects the audience’s happiness; the speaker should also seem to respect their culture, language, traditions, and morals. Thirdly, good rhetoricians can reinforce their ethos by showing off their “practical wisdom.” Put another way, audiences are most likely to trust persuaders who project competence and experience in the field they’re speaking about. By combining all three components of ethos, a talented rhetorician can better persuade their audience that they should trust their arguments and act on their recommendations.

It might be objected that a speaker need not have good character to be persuasive—just because a speaker isn’t a good person doesn’t mean they’re wrong, after all. One could also argue that ethos is fundamentally dishonest, since the persuader need only seem virtuous, disinterested, and competent. (See “Rhetoric and Ethics” theme.) But Heinrichs argues that ethos is more than just a useful supplement to logic; it’s a fundamental part of a good argument. People choose to act based on their instincts and feelings about other people, not just pure rationality. Therefore, a relatively logical speaker who’s perceived as having great ethos will almost always be more successful than an impeccably logical speaker with poor character. Furthermore, speakers need to have good ethos in order to lead by example, inspiring their audiences to improve their own character. Heinrichs further suggests that ethos can inspire people to be better, not just seem better while making a speech. If everyone were to value good rhetoric, as Heinrichs advocates, then they could better recognize speakers with a high degree of virtue, disinterest, and practical wisdom, instead of being fooled by speakers who did a poor job of pretending to possess these qualities. By celebrating ethos in his book, Heinrichs stresses the importance of character and virtue, reminding us that rhetoric isn’t just a verbal art, but also a moral practice.

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Ethos Quotes in Thank You for Arguing

Below you will find the important quotes in Thank You for Arguing related to the theme of Ethos.
Chapter 5 Quotes

One of the greatest decorum scenes in movie history graces the climax of 8 Mile, Eminem's semiautobiography. He gets talked into a competition at a dance club in downtown Detroit where hip hop artists (orators, if you will) take turns insulting each other. The audience chooses the winner by applause. Eventually, the contest comes down to two people: Eminem and a sullen-looking black guy. (Well, not as sullen as Eminem. Nobody can be that sullen.) Eminem wears proper attire: stupid skullcap, clothes a few sizes too big, and as much bling as he can afford. If he showed up dressed like Cary Grant, he would look terrific—to you and me. But the dance club crowd would find him wildly indecorous.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker), Eminem
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Heinrichs is fond of using humorous and unorthodox examples to illustrate lofty points about the ancient art of rhetoric, and here, he cites the movie 8 Mile to explain the concept of decorum. People have strong misconceptions about what decorum means—most people would probably say that it’s all about manners, genteel politeness, etc. But as Heinrichs shows with this example (albeit rather condescendingly, assuming that his audience finds a “Cary Grant” look “terrific”), decorum isn’t necessarily anything of the kind—the word simply means fitting in with an audience. Eminem needs to fit in with an audience of hip hop fans, so he wears clothing similar to that of his audience members, and calls out his opponent for going to a private school (when this goes against the usual hip-hop ethos). Decorum, then, can be a powerful tool for building the audience’s loyalty and, ultimately, winning the argument (or, in this case, the hip hop battle).

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Chapter 6 Quotes

Lincoln made his audience well disposed toward him; emancipation was easier to accept coming from a racist than from one of those insufferable abolitionists up in liberal Massachusetts. If he had sermonized about racial equality the way they did, he never would have become president.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker), Abraham Lincoln
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Heinrichs talks about Abraham Lincoln, probably one of the greatest rhetoricians in history. Lincoln was an effective politician, Heinrichs suggests, because he was willing to build connections between himself and his audiences—even if doing so required him to sacrifice some of his values. Lincoln would tell offensive jokes and even use the “n-word”—however, Heinrichs argues that in doing so, he was able to work with (some of) the opposition and build a coalition, which eventually proceeded to abolish slavery in America. (Heinrichs doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that Lincoln might not have been “sacrificing” his values at all, but that he could have been racist and still opposed slavery as an institution—these are not mutually exclusive worldviews.) In general, though, Heinrichs uses Lincoln’s life to illustrate one of his most important points: through the power of rhetoric, people can overcome their differences, move past their fundamental values, and make progress.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Early in my publishing career, I worked for a small magazine that had no fact checkers. When Mount St. Helens erupted for the first time, I wrote a short news piece in which I cluelessly placed the volcano in Oregon. I didn't realize my mistake until after the magazine was published and a reader pointed it out to me. I walked into the editor's office and closed the door.
Me: (looking stricken): I've got bad news, Bill. Really bad news.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker)
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Heinrichs discusses one unconventional method of persuasion, using his own career as an example. In an article he wrote, Heinrichs placed Mount Saint Helens in the wrong state, resulting in a slightly embarrassing error in his magazine. But instead of waiting for his boss to find out about the mistake and yell at him, Heinrichs preempts his own punishment and tells his boss about the mistake upfront, claiming that his mistake was “really bad.” The tactic works well, and Heinrichs’ boss tells Heinrichs not to be so hard on himself.

Heinrichs’ style of apology is a particularly clever form of concession, a rhetorical maneuver that involves agreeing with an opponent’s point. Heinrichs manages to avoid any serious punishment for his mistake by agreeing with any potential criticism he might have faced from his boss—instead of waiting for his boss to tell him he did a bad job, he says so himself. In so doing, Heinrichs takes control over the exchange with his boss and steers clear of any punishment—a great example of how rhetoric can improve one’s career.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Different groups (such as dieters and healthy eaters) have different commonplaces. In fact, people identify with their groups through the groups’ commonplaces. These attitudes, beliefs, and values also determine a person’s self-identity—the assumptions and outlook on the world that define an individual. We will delve into identity later; right now, let's look at the commonplace as the starting point of rhetorical logic.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker)
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Heinrichs introduces an important concept: the commonplace. He defines a commonplace as a commonly-accepted, well-known rule or formulation that helps express the attitudes of a group of people. There are many different kinds of commonplaces—visual, verbal, even musical. However, the purpose of a commonplace is always the same: to simplify a complex set of ideas into a simple, easily digestible form. The importance of commonplaces in rhetoric is enormous: if a speaker can master the audience’s commonplaces, then the speaker is already halfway toward persuading them.

Commonplaces also represent what is potentially unethical and duplicitous about rhetoric: a talented rhetorician can used commonplaces to manipulate an audience into acting against its own interests by making people believe that the speaker is more in touch with their values and beliefs than they actually are. (For example, as Heinrichs later shows, George W. Bush was able to evoke the commonplaces of the Christian right simply by using the phrase “I believe.”) However, commonplaces are a two-way street: rhetoricians can use them to manipulate their audiences, but commonplaces also push rhetoricians to remain loyal to their audiences’ interests.

Chapter 16 Quotes

Here’s a secret that applies to all kinds of rhetorical defense: look for the disconnects.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker)
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Sixteen, Heinrichs writes about the tactics of the typical American salesman: in particular, the practice of building an unspoken connection with a client, based on disinterest (i.e., the salesman supposedly acting out of selfless concern for the client, rather than a selfish desire to turn a profit). From the client’s perspective, it’s important to understand these tactics in order to avoid being manipulated by them. As Heinrichs puts it, the audience should try to recognize the disconnects in an argument—in other words, the steps in an argument that remain unstated, or, to return to the salesman and the client, the gap between what the salesman wants and what the client wants. In recognizing the disconnects, a good audience member can understand more clearly how rhetorical manipulation works.

The passage emphasizes that Heinrichs is writing both for rhetoricians and for audience members: by learning about rhetoric, his readers can become better persuaders themselves while also building up an immunity to persuasive tactics.

Chapter 19 Quotes

America’s forty-third president, George W. Bush, deserves a special place in the rhetorical pantheon owing to his particular talent for code grooming. The candidates who followed him have been more articulate than Bush, but they still have a lot to learn from the man. Pundits loved to talk about his Christian code, but religion formed only a part of his grooming lingo. He also had his male code, his female code, and his military code.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker), George W. Bush
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:

In this semi-facetious, semi-serious passage, Heinrichs talks about the rhetorical arts of George W. Bush, a president who was notorious for being a clumsy public speaker. Bush was mocked for his nonsensical, ungrammatical sentences, and his weak, repetitive rhetoric. However, Heinrichs points out that Bush’s rhetoric was more effective than his critics would think: by repeating certain key words, Bush proved himself a master of code grooming—i.e., wrapping himself in the favorite phrases of an audience in order to cater to that audience’s preferences.

Heinrichs isn’t an admirer of Bush by any stretch of the imagination, but by choosing Bush for his example, rather than some more polished speaker, he makes an important point: although people love to make fun of repetitive speakers, people aren’t as swayed by polished, rational oratory as they might like to believe. In other words, even if people pretend that they respond to great, creative rhetoric, Bush’s crude code-grooming might be the more effective tactic of persuasion. Bush got to be president for eight years, after all—if anything, the joke’s on America, not Bush.

Chapter 20 Quotes

“Love” and “support” are superb code words that test well among women voters, sexist as that may sound; it's a bit risky to use it on the man’s wife, though, especially if she earns the steady income. But by evoking her mother, he creates a forgiving environment that brings the couple closer together in love, harmony, and shameless manipulation.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker)
Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Heinrichs talks about a hypothetical couple: the husband is trying to convince the wife to stay home for Thanksgiving, instead of flying to visit her parents. Heinrichs shows how the husband can use important code words like “love” and “support” to pressure and guilt his wife into staying home, while also tricking her into thinking that doing so would actually be the best thing for all concerned.

The passage is a good example of the manipulative, morally unsavory aspects of rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion by any means necessary—there’s no requirement that a good rhetorician argue fairly or honestly. Heinrichs occasionally admits that rhetoric can be unethical or manipulative (here, for example, he seems to acknowledge that the hypothetical husband is disrespecting or condescending to his hypothetical wife by pressuring her into agreement). However, he argues that, overall, rhetoric can be a “force for good” because it forces people to reach productive, mutually beneficial compromises.

Chapter 22 Quotes

I found a little plastic volcano and mailed it with a nice note thanking the governor for letting us borrow it. Some days later, I received a photograph signed by the governor. It showed her smilingly holding up the volcano along with a copy of the offending magazine. We published the picture with our correction in the next issue. My boss was so happy with the result that when the volcano exploded some months later he sent me out to do a cover story.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker)
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Heinrichs continues with an earlier example, showing that he used a little plastic volcano to make an effective apology to the governor of Washington after mistakenly placing Mount Saint Helens in Oregon (the wrong state). Heinrichs was able to use the plastic volcano to turn his mistake into a joke; furthermore, by building connections with the governor of Washington, he was able to advance his own career—an excellent example of how rhetoricians can use concessions and verbal maneuvering to turn defeats into victories. It would be easy to imagine Heinrichs’ mistake setting back his career. However, with the help of rhetoric, Heinrichs finesses his mistake and uses it as a launchpad for future success.

The problem with an apology is that it belittles you without enlarging your audience. Belittling yourself fails to un-belittle the victim. That’s why apologies often don’t work. They rarely seem sincere enough or extreme enough.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker)
Page Number: 252
Explanation and Analysis:

Heinrichs makes the somewhat counterintuitive argument that apologizing is often a bad idea. By making an apology, one admits a mistake; however, admitting a mistake is often not enough to pacify or satisfy the victim of the mistake. The victim continues to feel belittled and ignored—thus, the apology doesn’t always solve the problem. A more effective strategy for dealing with a mistake is to offer an immediate solution to the problem and—more subtly—frame one’s admission of a mistake in terms that strategically make one seem skillful. For example, one might apologize for a mistake at work by saying, “I’m a perfectionist, and I want to do this again.” In doing so, one emphasizes one’s virtues (“perfectionist”) and changes the discussion from the present tense to the future tense (“I want to do this again”). Morality tells us that apologizing is the “right” thing to do; however, Heinrichs counters by showing that apologizing isn’t always the most productive, mutually satisfactory thing to do.

Chapter 25 Quotes

Cicero says I should be prepared to argue both sides of the case, starting with my opponent’s pitch. This means spending some time imagining what he will say. I’m guessing he will talk about values a lot—the rights and freedoms that a noise ordinance will trample upon.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker), Marcus Tullius Cicero
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 25, Heinrichs talks about a hypothetical speech he might make at a town hall meeting, in which he argues that local townspeople shouldn’t use leaf blowers, since the noise is distracting. Throughout the chapter, Heinrichs talks about the classical structure of a speech, as articulated by Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman politican and rhetorician. Here, Heinrichs honors one of Cicero’s rules by planning to anticipate his opponent’s argument during his own speech. Heinrichs will preempt his opponent’s discussion of rights and freedoms by arguing that leaf blowers interfere with homeowners’ freedoms to enjoy their own property. In doing so, he’ll take the wind out of his unfortunate opponent’s sails and gain a major advantage in the debate.

Chapter 26 Quotes

[Obama] tells the story of parents—a goatherd who went on to study in America, a woman born “on the other side of the world, in Kenya” and ends with a moral that links his character with the American way: “l stand here knowing that my story is a part of the larger American story,” he says. “This is the true genius of America, a faith in the simple dreams of its people.”

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker), Barack Obama (speaker)
Page Number: 294
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 26, Heinrichs talks about a modern master of rhetoric, Barack Obama. Obama’s political career was full of memorable speeches, so it’s worthwhile to consider what rhetorical devices Obama used. Here, Heinrichs talks about the speech that first put Obama on a national stage, the speech he delivered at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In the speech, Obama began by talking about his own heritage as the son of an immigrant father, and connects his own life with commonplace American values. In doing so, Heinrichs shows, Obama follows the format of a Ciceronian oration, and also connects with his audience, building trust and respect for himself. By using President Obama as an example of rhetorical talent, Heinrichs emphasizes the point that rhetoric, even if it’s not particularly popular or commonly taught in America, is still a valuable skill.

Chapter 27 Quotes

First, though, think how you want to present that memo. Should it be printed and bound with a clear plastic binder? Or emailed as an attachment? If the boss is no reader, would he let you give a PowerPoint presentation? Or email one to him? That’s kairos again—timing plus medium.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker)
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 27, Heinrichs discusses more practical applications of the art of rhetoric. Heinrichs writes for a primarily business-focused audience (which explains why so many of his examples revolve around the workplace). An employee who’s trying to impress a boss should use the art of rhetoric to craft a persuasive memo, which exploits the “right time,” or kairos, and conveys the proper blend of logos, pathos, and ethos. One of Heinrichs’ major points in Thank You for Arguing is that different forms of communication favor different rhetorical appeals; for example, a phone call often favors a rational, logical appeal, while Skyping would favor a more ethos-oriented appeal. Understanding the underlying forms of persuasion can help people gain a major advantage in their lives, particularly at work.

Chapter 28 Quotes

The founders weren’t starry-eyed about their republic. [They] believed that the symptoms could be ameliorated by the combination of checks and balances and the “cool, candid” arbitration of the liberally educated professional class.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker)
Page Number: 323
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final chapter of Thank You for Arguing, Heinrichs makes his most eloquent and ambitious argument for the continued relevance of rhetoric. Situating rhetoric in a lengthy American tradition of democracy and freedom, Heinrichs suggests that the Founding Fathers believed that rhetoric would be a crucial component of the United States of America, and even suggested that politicians and leaders needed rhetoric to work together. In other words, the system of checks and balances that’s essential to American government can only function smoothly when politicians use the arts of logos, ethos, and pathos to convince people to cooperate with them and reach compromises. One could say that deliberative rhetoric is the art of reaching a compromise in order to move things forward, and the Founding Fathers supported the use of strong deliberative rhetoric. In the 21st century, when the different branches of government and political parties refuse to work together much of the time, people would do well to remember the importance of rhetoric in American history.

It is no coincidence that red and blue America split apart just when moral issues began to dominate campaigns—not because one side has morals and the other lacks them, but because values cannot be the sole subject of deliberative argument. Of course, demonstrative language—code grooming and values talk—works to bring an audience together and make it identify with you and your point of view. But eventually a deliberative argument has to get—well, deliberative.

Related Characters: Jay Heinrichs (speaker)
Page Number: 325
Explanation and Analysis:

Heinrichs continues to argue for the importance of rhetoric in general and deliberative rhetoric in particular in American politics. Too often, politicians fight with one another over basic moral values. While moral values are obviously important, Heinrichs suggests that a more productive form of argument would revolve around choices and actions, situated in the future tense. Politicians made a huge tactical error when they framed global warming in primarily moral terms; in doing so, they forced their opponents to frame their own opposition in conflicting moral terms, leading to a stalemate on the issue of global warming. By embracing deliberative rhetoric, politicians could reach compromises and undo the stereotype that politics is a dull, tedious business where nothing ever gets done—just one of the many useful applications of rhetoric that Heinrichs talks about in his book.