What is pathos?

Rhetoric, or the effective use of language, serves as the foundation for effective delivery. Your words are the matter from which you will shape arguments and shape other’s opinions. Much like sculpture, rhetoric is an art. You are given the content of your debate from the resolution, but you will decide how it will be discussed. From this lumpy, grey topic you will sculpt the debate into something meaningful. Aristotle’s work Rhetoric introduced the idea of three modes of persuasion that one can invoke with language: ethos, pathos, and logos. Though ancient, these concepts are relevant today. These concepts will help you become more a persuasive debater and orator.

Pathos concerns the emotion or passion that a speaker uses to appeal to his or her audience. Persuasion can occur at the level of how one feels, generally without a full consideration of the rationale behind an argument. The speaker can convey emotion, such as excitement, anger, or sadness, or appeal to the audience’s emotions, such as guilt, patriotism, hate, fear, love, or joy. While some may feel the use of Pathos is manipulative, it nonetheless can effectively move the audience to action or feeling that can underscore Logos and Ethos. No debater wants an apathetic audience. No judge wants a Dramatic Interpretation for a PF speech either. Pathos is only as useful as your ability to control your own emotion and use the emotions of your judge wisely.

To appeal to Pathos, use:

  • Vivid, concrete descriptions
  • Emotionally loaded language and examples
  • Narratives of emotional events or arguments
  • Emotional tone/presentation
  • Figurative language

Effective persuasion pairs rhetorical modes and consciously chooses which modes will be most successful for any given argument. In reality, you use all three modes fluidly and together throughout your arguments. The goal is to be conscious of the modes available to build the most persuasive presentation.

Including human interest stories as evidence or humanizing intangible impacts are key to effectively using pathos. For example, with the NSA domestic surveillance topic, saying that our freedom of speech or right of privacy are affected are difficult to measure. Telling a story, whether true or hypothetical, will help the judge understand and measure these impacts more persuasively than simply stating the impact will occur. Consider using pathos this month as you select your evidence and craft your impacts.


Want more information on Rhetoric and Delivery? Check out Beyond Resolved: A Public Forum Debate Manual by clicking on the button in the top right corner.


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