Appeals to Pathos

Learning Objective

  • Recognize appeals to pathos

People may be uninterested in an issue unless they can find a personal connection to it, so a communicator may try to connect to his or her audience by evoking emotions or by suggesting that author and audience share attitudes, beliefs, and values—in other words, by making an appeal to pathos. Even in formal writing, such as academic books or journals, an author often will try to present an issue in such a way as to connect to the feelings or attitudes of his or her audience (however, academic writing moves beyond reliance solely on appeals to pathos).

When you evaluate pathos, you are asking whether a piece of writing, a speech, etc. arouses the audience’s interest and sympathy. You are looking for the elements that might cause the audience to feel (or not feel) an emotional connection to the content.

An author may use an audience’s attitudes, beliefs, or values as a kind of foundation for his or her argument—a layer that the writer knows is already in place at the outset of the argument. So one of the questions you can ask yourself as you evaluate an author’s use of pathos is whether there are points at which the writer or speaker makes statements assuming that the audience shares the same feelings or attitudes. For example, in an argument about the First Amendment, does the author write as if he or she takes it for granted that the audience is religious?