Teaching as an adjunct can be a lot of fun. It is also challenging. As I have encountered a number of situations, I realize such a blog can be helpful, both to me and to others.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Biden-Palin And Ethos, Pathos And Logos

I will soon be discussing the topic of persuasive speeches with my students and I will be talking about Ethos, Pathos and Logos. The terms were first used by Aristotle. According to Aristotle, the most important of the three was ethos, credibility. He argued that each time you spoke, you needed to reestablish your credibility, there was no carry over.

In today’s society, certainly we look at the carryover. As the debate between Sarah Palin and John McCain started last night, expectations were based on previous performance. The credibility, or lack thereof, these two built up previously certainly had an effect on how we viewed them during the debate. Aristotle would disagree saying we should act as though we are hearing them for the first time each time they speak.

Certainly one thing which does occur with credibility is it waxes and wanes. Speakers can do and say things that at times will increase his/her credibility and at times decrease it. What were those moments for you during the debate?

In today’s society we tend to give the most credence to pathos, the emotional appeal. It would be nice to say that we are most interested in the logical appeal but I do not believe that to be the case. We are told (or we teach students) that emotional appeals are effective but they need to be backed up with logic. In theory that sounds great; in reality I am not sure it is true. We do things and get people to do things, based more on “guilt trips” than any other approach.

I found that there was a fascinating part in yesterday’s debate that dealt with an emotional appeal. Towards the end of the debate when Joe Biden choked up and said he resented the implication that a single father is not concerned with raising his children, that it was not just Sarah Palin who could talk to those issues but he could as well, I was a little surprised. I never felt there was even the hint of a suggestion he was uncaring when it came to his children, or children in general. Maybe I was just tired but I thought he was looking for a way to slip them in to make an emotional appeal and it really did not fit where he put it, he made it fit. He planned to use the line and it was just a matter of when and where.

As unacceptable as I found his comment, I found Sarah Palin’s response even more shocking. “Senator, no one is suggesting you are not a caring father and you should be respected for what you needed to do to help your children. That does not change the fact, however, that your policies, the policies of Barak O’Bama are dangerous for children,” would have been one way to respond. “Joe, I apologize if you think I was implying that you do not do a great job with your kids. You deserve a lot of credit for the job you have done with your kids. The question, however is…,” and continue from there.

Palin responded by simply talking about John McCain as a maverick. I thought the timing of that answer was terrible. She looked completely unsympathetic to the difficulties that Biden needed to handle. I thought she lost points for that. The emotional appeal she needed to have was not there.

Looking at debates is an excellent way of examining ethos, pathos and logos and I look forward to the remaining debates to see how they manage to get worked into my lectures.