Kairos and Pathos

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize appeals to pathos
  • Evaluate appeals to pathos

The word “kairos” means the right moment or, more simply, timeliness. Appeals to emotion are more likely to be effective work if they are also timely examples for your readers. For example, people were more likely to give to charities related to families and businesses soon after the 9/11 tragedy than they are now. However, donations still rise nearer the actual date of September 11 each year. This is an intersection of kairos and pathos. In other words, people’s emotions are heightened because of the time. Timeliness and emotion might be tied to an annual event such as sadness or depression on the anniversary of a loved one’s death or pride in America at the 4th of July. Other examples could have much larger time frames, such as suspicion and fear of one’s neighbors during the Second Red Scare 1940s and 50s. Or they could be on a much smaller scale, like someone being more generous and cheerful than normal on Friday evenings.

When writing and considering an appeal to pathos, also consider the timeliness. If you were writing a piece on why present-day Americans should fear a widespread viral infectious disease outbreak, it might seem untimely to use the example of smallpox, which was eradicated decades ago. You might cite Ebola or Covid-19 as more recent diseases that present greater threats to the limits of modern medicine. As you write, keep in mind how the use of timely examples can help build or detract from your argument if you are trying to appeal to the emotions of your audience.


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