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Here are a few terms to keep in mind as you read. Logos is the use of logic and

Here are a few terms to keep in mind as you read.

Logos is the use of logic and objective evidence and analysis in an argument. You will see this tool used in almost every non-religious argument you can find, and many religious ones as well. Basically, the use of logic is the claim that objective observation, quantification, and the laws of cause and effect can be applied to the issue and will lead the reader to the conclusion that the writer endorses.

At its most extreme, this is the language of science: We take some measurements, do some experiments, apply some known natural laws, and the result is a conclusion that logos forces us to agree with. For example, a hundred years ago, physicists disagreed about whether Einstein’s fancy new theory of relatively or Newton’s time-tested laws of mechanics gave the more-accurate picture of the way the world works. Do some experiments to gather evidence, crunch some numbers, see what happens, and pretty much everyone ends up agreeing.

The trouble is that outside of pure science (and even inside it, sometimes) the issues are usually not reducible to numbers and natural laws. When it comes to something that affects us personally, we seldom yield to pure logic. Nevertheless, logos can be a useful part of an argument. After all, even if the whole issue can’t be turned into numbers and laws, some important parts of it may be.

Pathos is the use of emotion. Because our inner lives are full of love, fear, resentment, ambition, loyalty, and all the other emotions you can think of, to be a human being is to make decisions based on much more than logic. A photograph of a shivering puppy can make you weep and inspire you to donate to the Humane Society, while a paragraph on the internet about people starving someplace far away makes you shrug and say, “Somebody ought to do something.” Unlike logos, pathos makes our individual perspective a crucial element in the argument.

Ethos is the presentation of the writer or speaker as someone who should be listened to. The appeal to ethos amounts to presenting yourself as a person of good character, rather than an opportunist or liar or manipulator — a person who is therefore credible. Whether or not we end up agreeing with a credible writer, we believe that her claims are worth our time and attention.

For example, when you walk into a classroom on the first day, you look for a professor who looks, speaks, and acts in ways close to what you expect of a college professor. If she seems unprepared or uncaring or uninterested in the subject, she will probably fail the ethos test, no matter how smart she is. Why should you invest time and attention in a class conducted by someone who apparently has not already invested her own?

In practice we rarely meet an argument that uses just one of these elements. Usually, all three are present, but in different proportions. However, for our daily purposes of argument and persuasion, ethos is the one without which the others are useless. If you can’t convince your reader that your words are worth her time, then there’s no amount of skillfully used pathos or logos that can make your argument persuasive. Effective argumentation and persuasion begin and end with credibility.

We usually gain or lose credibility both extrinsically and intrinsically. The teacher who doesn’t come across very well the first day may get the benefit of the doubt when you check her credentials and discover that she is very well qualified and highly thought of by former students. Sure enough, after a couple of days you realize that she just had first-day jitters, and you eventually might even interpret that as a sign that she cares very deeply about doing a good job.

Or you might discover that the person who seemed intrinsically credible is merely a good actor who does a convincing imitation of an expert. Her intrinsic credibility fails the substance test.

For this week, ask yourself questions about what makes Williams’s way of writing credible. This assignment isn’t to agree or disagree with her. It is to analyze the way she uses language to make herself intrinsically credible.

Your question should be the title of your essay. As always, the answer to your question should be your thesis statement and should be the last sentence of your first paragraph.