October 1, 2009

Aristotle’s rhetoric – the art of persuasion

I’ve been reading Aristotle’s “ars rhetorica” recently, and thought I’d share some bits I’ve learnt from my (quasi) intellectual musings – as a book titled “the art of rhetoric” is a subject which is (obviously) v.relevant to the advertising industry.

In “the art of rhetoric” Aristotle identified 3 key characteristics of a good persuader / or good arguer. These were:
* Pathos: appeal to the emotion of the audience

* Ethos: a sense of credibility and “moral competence”

* Logos: good logical structure

I always find it interesting to apply these three characteristics to advertising campaigns to see how they stand up. And increasingly I’d argue that these Aristotlean characteristics are becoming ever important, as social media and the art of conversation dominate. In particular I think it’s interesting to look at how the different characteristics can be used most effectively in different social media contexts.

So there you go. Some brief (but interesting I hope) musings from ancient philosophy.

Beyond advertising, I thought it would be fun to do a quick analysis of how our political leaders (Gordon and Dave) would fair in a public debate when it comes to election time. Here we go:

– Gordon is strong on Ethos and Logos. He carries Ethos due to the gravitas of his economic wisdom and greying hair. His Logos comes from years of crafting arguments in the Commons debating Chamber.

– Dave’s strong on Logos, and brings some Pathos, but is weak on Ethos. His Pathos comes from a connection with a certain audience – i.e. the middle classes – however, this isn’t particularly strong. And he’s certainly weak on Ethos. His baby-face, and evident lack of experience doesn’t go down well at all with a large tranche of voters.

On the face of it, when analysing the skills of each persuader, I’d say Gordon has the upper-hand – and is likely to win a public debate. Unless, that is, Dave greys up a little, and suddenly finds 20 years of life experience.

Finally – PLUG ALERT – if you’re interested in all of the above you should check out my personal side project aMap – a series of pocket argument guides partly based around Aristotle’s rhetoric (and informal logic).