Aristotle wrote that there are three ways to persuade: 1) argument by character, or ethos, 2) argument by logic, or logos, and 3) argument by emotion, or pathos. In this chapter, Heinrichs will discuss all three.
Aristotle was a master of categorizing, and in this chapter Heinrichs will discuss one of Aristotle’s most influential ideas: the tripartite division of argumentation.
When George Heinrichs was a little boy, he wanted to wear shorts in the middle of winter. Heinrichs tried to convince George using argument by character (appealing to the fact that he was George’s father). When this failed, he tried reason (George’s legs would get cold). Finally, he tried to use humor to convince George, pulling up his own pants legs and joking that he looked ridiculous. In the end, he compromised with his son, allowing him to wear shorts at school if he wore his snow pants outside.
There is no single best way to convince George to wear long pants; Heinrichs tries all three of the basic approaches to argumentation, appealing to his son’s reason, emotions, and respect for authority. Interestingly, Heinrichs chooses an example in which none of the arguments entirely work, perhaps emphasizing the importance of compromise (he cuts a deal with George instead of getting his way).
Of the three forms of persuasion, logos is the “smart child,” who gets good grades in school. Ethos would be the charismatic child who gets elected class president, and pathos would be the sibling who’s disrespected, but who gets away with everything. Ethos is often criticized for being cheap and illogical, but even Aristotle recognized that it’s necessary for winning most arguments.
People tend to respect logical arguments and ignore (or try to ignore) emotional pleas, but in fact, no good argument is purely logical. The best rhetoricians understand how to combine logic with emotion and authority to convince the greatest number of people.
When Heinrichs tried to convince George to wear pants, George instinctively used logos, ethos, and pathos to counter his father. When Heinrichs cited his own authority as George’s father, George replied, “They’re my legs,” citing his own authority over his own body. He insisted that he didn’t mind if his legs got cold (logos), and he looked adorable when he tried not to cry (pathos). In the end, Heinrichs compromised with George, recognizing that George had matched him in their rhetorical argument.
Heinrichs emphasizes that learning how to argue isn’t all about offense. A good student of rhetoric knows how to defend a position and, perhaps even more importantly, recognize other people’s style of argument, just as George recognizes that his father is trying to convince him to wear long pants.
When using logos, rhetoricians must remember the importance of concession—agreeing with an opponent’s points but still controlling the argument. By agreeing, rhetoricians keep the argument pleasant. For example, Heinrichs had a boss who was great at agreeing with Heinrich’s points and yet refusing to do what Heinrichs suggested. When Heinrichs proposed an idea, his boss would say, “Let’s circle back to it.” With concession, it’s possible to win an argument without saying “no” to your opponent even once.
Concession is an important concept, which Heinrichs has already discussed, because it emphasizes the difference between arguing and fighting. Fighting is about a strong offense, and refusing to accept an opponent’s authority in any way. Arguing, by contrast, is about accepting an opponent’s ideas, albeit in a strategy way.
When using pathos to persuade, rhetoricians transform themselves into emotional role models, showing other people how they should feel. In a way, rhetoricians make emotional concessions, steering the debate in a new direction. Once, Heinrichs came home from work, angry with his boss for ignoring an award his magazine had won. Dorothy, his wife, expressed sympathy and argued that Heinrichs should have gotten a bonus. Heinrichs found himself qualifying his anger, and even said, “It wasn’t that big an award.” Dorothy’s sympathy may have been genuine, but it also steered the conversation in a new direction by convincing Heinrichs to side with his employer.
Dorothy’s behavior with Heinrichs reinforces the importance of concession in rhetoric. Presumably, Dorothy doesn’t want to hear her husband complaining about his lack of an award all night long; therefore, she cuts off her husband’s complaints by complaining even more than he does. In doing so, Dorothy gains control over the direction of the conversation and makes Heinrichs feel foolish for being so angry—all without ever actually disagreeing.