Archive for aristotle

Pathos as the enactment of change

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Then again, pathos may not neatly correspond to emotional discourse.  In fact, a closer look at Aristotle’s treatment of pathos reflects a more complex theory than we might realize. Pathe are not qualities, but they are more like agents that affect a temporary change. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty explains that Aristotle viewed pathos as that which produces change in a body that would not otherwise experience such a change. In metaphysical terms, pathos is not part of a body’s essential being. Rorty writes, “Pathe proper are not qualities (poiotetes): they are relatively impermanent alternations in a thing, whose causal explanation usually lies primarily outside its nature (526).

Thus, a broken leg is a pathos insofar as it gives rise to a limping walk that would not otherwise be natural to a body. Likewise, my dirty joke at the dinner table might be said to be a pathos when it causes my modest companion to blush. The pathos enacts a temporary change in this modest body that is in a normally non-blushing state. For this reason, Aristotle paints pathos as something that is undergone or suffered by beings. Rorty says that they are, for Aristotle, most often misfortunes—and we can see why. The passive or accidental undergoing of a changed experience has a ring of misfortune about it.

This view of pathos—as an agent that enacts a change upon another body—is complex insofar as it turns pathos into more of an active agent than a unique substance. In the case of my dirty joke, the pathos is not located solely in language or in my companion’s body. Rather, the pathos enacts a changed state in conjunction with her body. It is this combined enaction of a blushing body and dirty joke that is the pathos. Consequently, pathos does not exist “in” anything, but it enacts a changed state when linked with (other) bodies. Pathos is the (en)act(ment) of change.


The secondary role of pathos

Although the appeals have been triangulated in rhetorical theory post-Aristotle, pathos has not been given equal stature to the so-called rational logos. Pathetic appeals, much like ethical appeals, are often framed as a kind of helper to this weightier rhetorical proof. In fact, rhetoric itself has been conflated with logos, or rational reasoning, which is sometimes supported and extended by the other two appeals. Good rhetoric is discourse comprised of logos, while faulty rhetoric skims by on emotional appeals and cults of personality.

Some theorists refuse to even grant non-rational discourse the status of rhetoric. Donald Bryant made such a refusal in his 1953 essay “Rhetoric: Its Function and Its Scope,” where he offers a working definition of rhetoric as “the rationale of informative and suasory discourse” (18). Other theorists simply reaffirm the secondary nature of emotional appeals.  So argues Corbett when he writes, “It is argument (the appeal to the understanding) that produces conviction about the conduciveness of the means to the desired end; it is the appeal to the emotions that makes the end seem desirable” (87). In other words, reason is the primary term of rhetoric, while emotional appeals simply color how the audience feels about that reason. Corbett warns that we should not mistake these as two equal “parts” of rhetoric. One is greater than the other. He cautions:

[T]he emotional appeal plays a vital part in the persuasive process; intellectual conviction is often not enough to move people’s will to act. [But you must be] alert for emotional appeals from others; don’t allow your heart to prompt you to do something that your reason or conscious would later regret. (94)

While the emotional appeal operates in rhetorical persuasion, then, Corbett stresses its secondary status to reason and logic. In fact, the emotional appeal must be kept in a kind of check in order to avoid abuses or manipulation. Corbett does not wish to discard non-rational elements of rhetoric, of course. They are necessary for rhetorical efficacy. He knows that intellectual argument alone will not always allow rhetorical reasoning to get heard by the audience. We need something to make the end seem desirable. Pathos is that something.

Pathos, a conceptual history

Tracking the history of pathos as a rhetorical concept . . . 

The concept of pathos necessarily begins with Aristotle’s system, which is oriented around the idea of the proofs (pisteis) common to rhetoric. Aristotle famously indicates three different modes of artistic proof. Over time, these three modes have become known as ethos, pathos, and logos. While the three pisteis are often identified by their different characteristics and qualities, Aristotle more specifically differentiates them in terms of spatialization. That is, the proofs are distinct insofar as they exist in different spheres.

As George Kennedy explains, “Aristotle’s system . . . divides the artificial proof into three types: that found in the character of the speaker, that found in the state of mind produced in the hearer, and that found in the speech itself insofar as it proves or seems to prove” (90). This spatialized explanation of the proofs likewise resonates in Kennedy’s translation of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. “Of the pisteis provided through speech there are three species: for some are in the character [ethos] of the speaker, and some in disposing the listener in some way, and some in the argument itself, by showing or seeming to show something” (Rhetoric 1.2; 37). Each individual proof (ethos, pathos, or logos) is found in a particular place—the speaker, the listener, or the speech. This spatialized discourse makes it quite easy to conceptualize the proofs as distinctly located apart from one another

coming tomorrow . . . pedagogy and the spatialization of pathos