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Persuasion: Why classical rhetoric?

The three modes of persuasion

Aristotle-master-Marketer-260x300Brief writing and oral argument have one purpose: persuasion. See this blog post of 16 Sept. 2020. But how do we persuade? We have 2,500 years of accumulated wisdom to answer this question. Aristotle identified three means of persuasion: (1) logos, the appeal to reason; (2) pathos, the appeal to emotion; and (3) ethos, the appeal of the speaker’s or writer’s character and credibility. Most of us learned a bit of logos in law school. Experience has taught some of us the importance of pathos. Only a few of us appreciate the importance of ethos.

My opinion: to be a great advocate, you need all three. As time and workload allow, I hope to explore all three here, beginning with a refresher on logos or logic. Meanwhile, here are authorities for this post and recommendations for future reading:

  • Michael R. Smith, Advanced Legal Writing, at 9–10 (2d ed. 2008).
  • Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, at 31–32 (4th ed. 1999).

(Aristotle photo credit here.)


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