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Ethos and Rhetoric

Michael J. Hyde

Subject Linguistics
Communication Studies » Rhetorical Studies

Key-Topics ethics, morality

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Ethos, commonly translated as “ethics” and “moral character,” is a fundamental term in the history of the western rhetorical tradition. For “who does not know,” writes the ancient Greek philosopher and rhetorician Isocrates, “that words carry greater conviction when spoken by men of good repute than when spoken by men who live under a cloud, and that the argument which is made by a man's life has more weight than that which is furnished by words?” ( Isocrates 1982 , 278; →  Rhetoric, Greek ). Ethos is both a legitimating source for and a praiseworthy effect of the ethical practice of the orator's art. Heeding the call of public service as a person of “good repute,” the orator's presence and rhetorical competence are a “showing-forth” ( epideixis ) of a “principled self” that instructs the moral consciousness and actions of others and thereby serves as a possible catalyst for them to do the same for the good of their community. Isocrates anticipates the doctrine of ethos developed in Aristotle's Rhetoric , but with this doctrine comes a significant change in the technical use of the term. For Isocrates, rhetorical paideia , education and socialization, serves the process of character development, but it is a person's character itself, his or her stellar reputation, that anchors the persuasive capacity of rhetoric. Aristotle, on the other hand, associates ethos not primarily with ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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