Ethos in Aristotle and Beyond

About Ethos

Ethos is the most important of Aristotle's three forms of proof, the other two being pathos and logos. Where pathos is proof by means of the hearers when roused to emotion by the speech and logos is proof by means of the speech itself, when arguments are established from the means of persuasion applicable to the subject, ethos is proof by means of the character of the speaker, as established in the speech. In cases where there is no certainty, the character of the speaker is the sole source of confidence. (Rhetoric I.2.3-7).

Aristotle noted that one gains ethos by studying those who already have it.

Contemporary Usages of Ethos:
Reinforce or repair the speaker’s reputation.
Use the speaker's reputation to endorse the subject or purpose of the speech.
Reinforce, repair, or attack someone else’s reputation.
Induce audience identification with the speaker’s goals.

Primary Reasons of Importance:

Building Trust: Having strong ethos helps speakers build trust with their audience. When listeners perceive the speaker as knowledgeable, honest, and reliable, they are more likely to believe and accept the speaker's message.

Enhancing Persuasion: Ethos can enhance the persuasiveness of a speaker's argument. When the speaker has credibility and expertise on the topic, listeners are more likely to be persuaded by the speaker's message.

Establishing Authority: Ethos helps speakers establish authority on the subject matter. If the speaker has relevant experience, qualifications, or expertise in the topic, they are more likely to be viewed as an authority figure by the audience.

Fostering Positive Relationships: Ethos can also foster positive relationships between the speaker and the audience. When the speaker is perceived as trustworthy and respectful, listeners are more likely to feel valued and engaged in the communication process.

There are three aspects of the speaker's character that produce persuasion:

  • phronesis (intelligence)
  • arete (excellence)
  • eunoia (good will)

Without established Ethos, the speaker does not have reliability and is more likely to experience distrust from the audience.


Ethos is a large pillar of Richard Nixon's resignation speech following the Watergate Scandal.

“Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere,” Nixon said in the address. “To make every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me.”

  • According to Harrell, Ware and Linkugel in Failure of Apology in American Politics: Nixon on Watergate, this quote is a display of ethos in the form of “ideological legitimacy.”

Additionally, Nixon works hard to highlight his successes while in office, thus adding to his authority from his presidential position.

“We have ended America's longest war, but in the work of securing a lasting peace in the world, the goals ahead are even more far-reaching and more difficult," Nixon said. "We must complete a structure of peace so that it will be said of this generation, our generation of Americans, by the people of all nations, not only that we ended one war but that we prevented future wars. We have unlocked the doors that for a quarter of a century stood between the United States and the People's Republic of China. We must now ensure that the one quarter of the world's people who live in the People's Republic of China will be and remain not our enemies but our friends.”



“Resignation Address to the Nation.” American Rhetoric. Accessed January 31, 2023.

Harrell, Jackson, B. L. Ware, and Wil A. Linkugel. "Failure of Apology in American Politics: Nixon on Watergate." Communication Monographs 42 (1975): 245-261.

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