The Power of Emotion

Emotion is a powerful tool of rhetorical manipulation and persuasion. Even prior to the formal study of logos, numerous philosophers, logographers, and rhetoricians utilized this concept of emotion. The Greek term pathos, emulates the essence of emotions and their use as a rhetorical tool. This concept has made appearances in writings by some of the most influential thinkers/writers/philosophers in the field of rhetoric, including Homer, Gorgias and Plato [1]. However, when Homer uses pathos to give voice to Achilles, the reference is not to emotion or emotional condition/state, but rather to suffering and emotional distress [3]. In addition, when Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen references “…fear extinguish and expel thought…” he is referring to the powerful nature of emotion and it’s ability to alter rational thought, even though he does not use the term pathos [2].

Most influential to the field, is Aristotle’s use in On Rhetoric. In book 1, chapter 2, line 5, Aristotle states, “[There is persuasion] through the hearers when they are led to feel emotion [pathos] by the speech; for we do not give the same judgment when grieved and rejoicing or when being friendly and hostile” [4]. He is declaring that the pathos or emotions alter a person’s perceptions and therefore, are a powerful tool of manipulation and persuasion. These emotions alter the rational processes and therefore absorb, process, and retain rhetoric differently. The power of this concept is compelling enough to flourish through history and still be a major contribution in rhetorical studies today.

Contemporary rhetorical scholars like Murphy and Larson examine and analyze this developing concept of emotional appeals in rhetoric. According to Murphy recalling Aristotle, “…those that bring the audience into a certain state of feeling (pathos) [are] favorable to accepting the arguments made in the speech…” [5]. Therefore it is clear that the persuader’s rhetorical elements are designed to fill the listeners with powerful compelling emotions, with the goal being that once the audience is charged with emotions they are more likely to accept the persuader’s solution to resolve these compelling emotions. In addition, according to Larson’s reflection on Aristotle, “persuasion succeeds or fails based on…emotional appeals…” [6]. Therefore, it is clear that pathos plays a vital role in the success or failure of a persuasive argument. In addition, Larson explains that Aristotle’s pathos involves, “emotions that come into play as appeals are made to the things people hold dear” [6]. This states that utilizing powerful emotions that motivate change increases the audience’s motivation to accept the persuader’s suggested course of action.

It is evident through the continued use of the emotional pathos that it is an incredibly powerful tool of rhetoric. The universality of this Greek term proves its continual influence in the field of rhetoric. In addition, the continued teaching of this concept proves its place in rhetorical pedagogy, as continued exploration and analysis of this concept is only possible if it is repeatedly taught to students of the rhetorical arts.

Word Count: 491

[1] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/searchresults?q=pathos&page=2
[2] http://www.scribd.com/doc/91892/Greek-History-Mythology-word
[3] http://www.phil.vt.edu/MGifford/phil2115/Helen.htm
[4] Kennedy, George A. Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. New York, NY:
Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.
[5] Murphy, J. J.; Katula, R. A. (1994). A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric. Davis,
California: Hermagoras Press.
[6] Larson, C. U. (2007) Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility. Belmont: Thomson
Higher Education.

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