Aristotle’s Triad

May 4, 2023 | Public speaking

When Aristotle wrote The Art of Rhetoric in 350 BCE, he described the ability of a speaker to convince and persuade the audience as being the result of three different, but interlinking, principals: logos, ethos and pathos. Considered in conjunction with one another, these three elements of appeal combine to form what later rhetoricians have referred to as the rhetorical triangle.

The ancient art of rhetoric is a skill which can be learnt. As the speechwriter Simon Lancaster puts it, ‘Rhetoric can turn preachers into presidents, paupers into prime ministers, the parochial into the profound.’

So, what do these three terms actually refer to, and more importantly, how can we apply them to our own writing and speaking? 

1. LOGOS appeals to reason.

In terms of writing, or in more modern parlance, in terms of content creation, it can be thought of as the ability of the writer to argue his or her point. This is the apparent proof that the writer is able to demonstrate.

The following questions can help you consider whether your ‘logos’ is solid:

  • Is the argument clear and specific?
  • Is it supported by strong reasoning and credible evidence?
  • Is it logical and well put-together?

Logos, therefore, is the actual content, or writing.

2. ETHOS appeals to the writer’s character.

This element refers to the role of the writer (or speaker) in the argument and therefore how credible he or she really is.

Think about credibility through the following questions:

  • What are the writer’s qualifications? How is the writer or speaker actually connected to the topic?
  • Does the writer demonstrate respect for multiple viewpoints by referring to different sources that serve to support the central argument? Are those sources in themselves credible? 
  • Is the tone that is used suitable for the audience and/ or purpose?
  • Is the general presentation polished, professional and well put-together? 

Ethos, therefore, refers to the person of the writer or speaker.

3. PATHOS refers to the emotions inspired by the argument.

This relates to the emotions of the audience and their sympathetic imagination, their beliefs, values, hopes and fears.

Think through pathos by asking the following questions: 

  • Are the examples used vivid and likely to capture the audience’s imagination?
  • Will the audience’s emotions and imagination be appealed to?
  • Do references relate to shared beliefs and values?

Pathos, therefore, refers to the role of the audience.

It is this final point, pathos, in referring to the reactions and focus of the audience, that is crucial for a great speech that will go down in history. Aristotle opens The Art of Rhetoric by stressing that ‘of the three elements in speech-making – speaker, subject and person addressed, it is the last one, the hearer, that determines the speech’s end and object’. So, when you’re thinking about what you’re going to write or say, think first about what your audience needs to read about or hear.



Aristotle The Art of Rhetoric
Lancaster, S., Speechwriting, the Expert Guide, Hale (2010)