EthosSupplementalReading - ETHOS: INTELLIGENCE, CHARACTER,...

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E THOS : I NTELLIGENCE , C HARACTER , AND G OODWILL Of the three modes of persuasion that Aristotle lays out in On Rhetoric , ethos is quite possibly the most complicated. The ancient Greek term ethos is the origin of our modern word, ethics, and can be defined as how one chooses to live one’s life, including one’s intelligence, character, and goodwill toward others. Today, we often hear about the importance of voters perceiving politicians as competent, trustworthy, likeable, or similar to the general population. During the 2004 presidential elections we saw a great deal of media coverage focused on how likable, how experienced, or how honest the candidates were. Depictions of Democratic Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards as the son of a poor mill worker who grew up with traditional small-town blue-collar values were contrasted with depictions of him as a high-power personal injury attorney and multimillionaire. Whenever Edwards stood up to speak he confronted issues of ethos. Likewise, depictions of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as billionaire oil barons unconcerned with America or its citizens were contrasted with images of them as patriots embattled with tough choices and hard situations. Throughout any election campaign each candidate must both manage her or his existing public persona and try to build the public’s perception of the candidate in positive ways. As these example point out, ethos includes both the perceptions that the audience has before the speaker begins to speak and also the perceptions that the speaker can build for the audience during the course of the speech. Of course, what a speaker can and cannot do in a speech is affected by what the audience knows of the speaker beforehand. When President Clinton went on television to admit his affair with Monica Lewinsky and confess that he had lied to the American public, he certainly had to take into consideration his previous deceptions, the fact that most Americans were already well- convinced that the affair had occurred, and the deep political divide in the country at the time. As a speaker, Clinton wanted audiences to believe his apology was sincere and his character still reasonably sound. To do so required that he consider what the audience already believed about him before he could mold those beliefs into something more positive. So, as speakers we must always start with the understanding that the ethos we try to build in a speech must work with what the audience already might believe about us. Even audiences who do not know a speaker as an individual will bring assumptions to the speech about what type of person the speaker is. Every speaker finds her/himself affected by certain assumptions before a speech even begins, being already socially labeled as “student,” “teacher,” “lawyer,” “politician,” “administrator,” “father,” “mother,” “black,” “white,” “hispanic,” “asian,” “male,” “female,” “young,” “middle-aged,” “elderly,”
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This note was uploaded on 06/22/2011 for the course SPCH 230 taught by Professor Pellechia during the Fall '08 term at South Carolina.

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EthosSupplementalReading - ETHOS: INTELLIGENCE, CHARACTER,...

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