What is Ethos?



Ethos refers to the appeal to ethics and credibility. It is one of Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion, alongside pathos (emotional appeal) and logos (logical appeal). When using ethos as a rhetorical device, the aim is to convince the audience of the speaker’s reliability, integrity, and competence in the subject matter. Credentials, experience, and reputation often contribute to a speaker’s ethos.

The term “ethos” can refer to different concepts depending on the context in which it is used.


Ethos refers to the credibility or authority of the speaker or writer. When someone uses ethos as a persuasive device, they are attempting to convince the audience of their reliability, ethical standing, or expertise on the topic at hand. For example, a doctor talking about medical issues has ethos because of their training and experience.

Culture & Society

Ethos can also refer to the characteristic spirit or attitudes of a community, group, or organization, expressed in its beliefs, customs, and practices. For example, “The ethos of the school was rooted in a culture of excellence and inclusion.”


In some philosophical contexts, ethos refers to the moral character or fundamental values particular to an individual, culture, or movement. For example, the ethos of minimalism might focus on simplicity and the shedding of excess material goods.

Brand Ethos

In a business context, “brand ethos” refers to the values and characteristics that define a particular brand and distinguish it from others. This often includes the brand’s mission, values, and the promises it makes to its customers.

Music and Literature

In artistic contexts, ethos may describe the overall mood or emotions that a piece of music, literature, or art aims to invoke.


In certain religious contexts, ethos may refer to the disposition or characteristics that are commonly found among adherents, including shared beliefs, practices, and ethical guidelines.

Components of ethos

The three main components of ethos are:

  1. Credibility (Ethical Appeal): One of the most important aspects of ethos is establishing credibility. This is achieved by demonstrating knowledge of the subject matter, citing reliable sources, or showing expertise in the field. The audience is more likely to trust a speaker who seems well-informed and honest.
  2. Trustworthiness: Being trustworthy is crucial to establishing ethos. This means that the speaker acts consistently and fairly, displays integrity, and seems genuinely interested in the well-being of the audience. Trustworthiness may be established through a long-standing reputation or can be built within the context of the speech or document itself, by being transparent and straightforward.
  3. Likeability (Charisma): This is the emotional aspect of ethos. Audiences are more likely to be persuaded by someone they like or find appealing. A speaker can establish this through a respectful tone, showing empathy, and connecting with the audience on an emotional level.

History of Ethos

The concept of ethos has its origins in ancient Greek philosophy, specifically in the work of the philosopher Aristotle. In his seminal text “Rhetoric,” Aristotle outlined the three modes of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos pertains to the character and credibility of the speaker, logos to the logical structure and reasoning of the argument, and pathos to the emotional appeals used to persuade an audience.

Aristotle posited that of the three, ethos is the most powerful because audiences are more likely to be persuaded when they believe the speaker to be credible and moral. The concept of ethos in ancient Greece was deeply embedded in the societal values of the time, including the emphasis on civic participation and the ability to persuade others through public speaking.

The Middle Ages and Renaissance

In the Medieval period, ethos continued to be an important concept but was often absorbed into Christian rhetorical traditions, where the ethics and morality of the speaker (often a preacher) played a key role in the effectiveness of the message. Classical rhetorical methods, including ethos, were taught as part of the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) during the Renaissance and were essential to the humanist education system.

The Enlightenment and Modernity

During the Enlightenment, the scientific method and empirical reasoning gained prominence, but ethos remained relevant as an aspect of persuasive speaking and writing. Credibility became closely tied to expertise in increasingly specialized fields of knowledge.

20th and 21st Centuries

In the modern era, the concept of ethos has expanded beyond public speaking and is now studied in a variety of disciplines, including philosophy, communications, and even digital media. It is also frequently discussed in the context of leadership, branding, and political communication. In today’s digital age, establishing ethos can be particularly challenging due to the impersonal nature of online interactions, and yet it’s more important than ever because of the sheer volume of information and the necessity to sort through it critically.

Today, ethos isn’t just established through expertise and ethical grounding; it’s also influenced by external factors such as social proof (endorsements from other trusted figures), and institutional affiliations.

Purpose of Ethos

The purpose of ethos in rhetoric and communication is to establish the speaker’s or writer’s credibility, thereby making the argument more convincing or persuasive to the audience. A strong ethos fosters trust, respect, and integrity, key elements in effective persuasion. Here are some specific purposes for employing ethos:

Build Trust

Ethos helps establish a relationship of trust between the speaker and the audience. If people believe the speaker is reliable and well-informed, they’re more likely to trust the information being presented.

Enhance Persuasive Power

An argument is often more persuasive when presented by someone who is knowledgeable, ethical, and likable. If the audience perceives the speaker to have a strong ethos, they are more likely to be persuaded by the argument.

Establish Authority

Demonstrating a level of expertise or experience in a particular subject matter can help the speaker establish authority. This can make the audience more receptive to the message, as they believe it comes from an “expert.”

Create a Strong Connection

Ethos can also include an emotional element, which helps the speaker connect with the audience on a deeper level. This emotional connection can make the argument more compelling.

Legitimize the Argument

When a speaker has strong ethos, their arguments are more likely to be considered legitimate and worthy of attention. This can be particularly important in public debates, courtroom settings, or any context where various perspectives are being weighed.

Enhance Long-term Influence

Building a strong ethos is not just about winning a single argument; it can also help in establishing long-term influence. A speaker with a strong ethos is more likely to be considered a thought leader in their field, which can have ongoing benefits, including more significant impact and the ability to effect change.

Facilitate Ethical Communication

Ethos inherently involves ethical considerations. By striving to present oneself as honest and trustworthy, a speaker encourages a more ethical form of communication. This is particularly significant in today’s world, where misinformation can be easily disseminated.

Increase Audience Engagement

An audience is more likely to pay attention and engage with a speaker who demonstrates credibility, knowledge, and ethical character. Ethos can thus be a crucial factor in capturing and maintaining audience interest.