How Artistic Proof is used to Influence People

Written by Argumentful

Artistic Proof

Artistic proof is a term used in classical rhetoric and it refers to the means of persuasion that a speaker could employ. ‘Proof’ being the actual mean of persuasion. “Artistic” because the person who employs it has to work at creating it, it does not occur by itself in the same way a fact which constitutes evidence occurs.

The three types of persuasion proposed by Aristotle are:

  • Ethos: ethical, having to do with human character and goodness
  • Pathos: emotional, having to do with human emotions
  • Logos: logical proof or logical reasoning

Here is the way Sam Leith sees it:

“One crude way I’ve chosen to encapsulate [the artistic proofs] in the past is as follows: Ethos: ‘Buy my old car because I’m Tom Magliozzi.’ Logos: ‘Buy my old car because yours is broken and mine is the only one on sale.’ Pathos: ‘Buy my old car or this cute little kitten, afflicted with a rare degenerative disease, will expire in agony, for my car is the last asset I have in the world, and I am selling it to pay for kitty’s medical treatment.'”
(Sam Leith, Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric From Aristotle to Obama)

How could these be used? If I wanted to convince a friend that Coronavirus outbreak is good for the environment, then I could decide to employ some or all of these methods by appealing to her ethos, pathos and/or logos.

What is Ethos?

In the coronavirus vs. the environment example, my friend might be convinced by my argument because she knows that I have strong ethical values, in general I am a person of principle and in the long time since she has known me she has always seen me make good choices for the benefit of the environment. All in all, my good character could be the element which convinces her in this discussion, rather than any argument I would decide to bring to the table.

Definition of Ethos

So ethos, related to ethical proof is a quality that is associated to the person who makes the argument and appeals to the judgement or evaluation of the person who listens to the argument. The objective of employing ethos is to persuade.

Let’s take another example and let’s imagine you are organizing your holiday and decide to stay in an Airbnb. Apart from the photos displaying the location, you will probably check what other travellers have said about the apartment, but also about the host. You might also decide to filter the results and only include the super hosts. You may not realize this, but by including these pieces of evidence about the host, Airbnb is making an appeal to your ethos in an aim to persuade you to make a choice based on selecting the host that displays good character and who perhaps has values similar to the ones you hold.

Ok, so ethos has to do with the character. Let’s see what pathos means.

What is Pathos?

Going back to the coronavirus impact on the environment example, I might choose to employ pathos in order to convince my friend that this outbreak has positive benefits for the earth. So I could tell her that since the beaches have been deserted, in Brazil around 100 endangered turtles have hatched on the beaches of Pernambuco. This is an astonishingly rare event, even more so with a species of endangered animals. If my friend is not a psychopath, she will probably be emotionally touched by this story: because these specific turtles are endangered, they are probably cute and they have finally found some peace to hatch once all people left the beaches.

Definition of Pathos

Pathos is a method of persuasion which relies on emotions. It appeals to people’s emotions, awakening feelings which are meant to influence the audience towards a certain goal or point of view. The emotions that speakers might appeal to are not necessarily joy, happiness or compassion. When employed, pathos could also appeal to anger or frustration.

In persuading potential customers to choose an Airbnb location, the hosts could be using specific words in the description of the listings. These would be meant to trigger feelings you would normally associate with a holiday- comfort or luxury: they could say ‘apartment overlooking a soothing beach’ or ‘whisper-soft pillows’, ‘a haven of tranquillity’, ‘serene’, ‘refined’, ‘lavish’ etc.

You can see how carefully crafting such descriptions can help a marketing effort to influence people emotionally. It is said that most of our buying decisions are done emotionally. This means that most marketing and selling efforts would be directed to appeal to pathos. But I believe this is true only because most people do not make an effort to use critical thinking in their daily decisions. Or maybe even in their lives in general. We need to change that.

The final third element in the triad is logos. If some people are influenced by believing in good character, while others are led emotionally, there are still those who will only be persuaded with good old logic.

What is Logos?

In trying to convince my friend that the virus outbreak has a positive impact on the environment I could mention numerous facts and varied data to support my argument: it could start with China’s famous photo showing a remarkable decrease in the nitrogen dioxide. Then the countries went on lockdown one by one and the impact was also felt in the UK. Likewise, scientists found that there was a 5-10% drop in CO2 over New York and a solid drop in methane as well. All these elements are meant to appeal to my friend’s logic and influence her via this route.

Definition of Logos

Logos is the method of persuasion which appeals to logic. We employ it to substantiate our views with credible facts and evidence. The person who listens to a speech marked by logos is meant to be influenced through logical reasoning. In the Airbnb quest, logos could come into play once we read users’ feedbacks and we find out certain facts about the apartment: too close to the center, walls too thin, neighbours too noisy, wild nightlife around the neighbourhood. These elements might influence us to not choose a certain apartment based on logic. Or, if the feedback was positive, then the opposite- to choose it.

Ethos, Pathos and Logos- Which One Matters Most?

So by now you’re probably wondering which one matters most. Well, it depends. If you’re discussing with a person whose decisions and lifestyle are usually following the path of logic, logos will probably need to be employed. But unfortunately the majority of our world is not made up of such people. How many of us instinctively resort to logic? I am not saying that people do not put importance on logic, I am saying that this is a skill which needs to be taught, nurtured, and practised. It does not come instinctively to us. But our minds can be trained in that direction.

Let’s bring it all together: in a study published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, the authors wanted to find out how ethos, pathos and logos influenced potential renters’ decisions to choose an Airbnb location over another. It turns out that ethos and pathos managed to influence the customers towards selecting a listing, while logos had the opposite effect of turning them away- where there were logical reasons to do so. For example, there could be an Airbnb listing where the host had amazing feedback for their qualities of hosting (ethos); furthermore, the photos and language employed were appealing emotionally towards a positive selection (pathos). Nevertheless, if the feedback about surrounding areas, such as noisy neighbourhood or thin walls was not the best, then the user would balance logos against ethos and pathos and decide to follow logic- thus not selecting that Airbnb apartment. This is an encouraging result as I welcome logic anytime!

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