The word pathos is patterned after a Greek word meaning “what we experience, as opposed to what we do” (Bailly, [Pathos]). In Latin, pathos is sometimes translated as dolor, which basically means “pain”; Cicero uses dolor to refer to passionate eloquence (Gaffiot [1934], Dolor).

In classical rhetoric, pathos is a kind of evidence, complementary to that drawn from logos and ethos. “Evidence” here means “persuasion”, in the sense of pressure and control exerted on the audience. The word pathos covers a set of socio-linguistic emotions upon which the speaker might draw in order to orient his audience towards the conclusions and actions he or she advocates.

1. Ancient rhetoric: Emotions as a manipulative tool

1.1 Ethos and pathos, two levels of affects?

The Trinitarian presentation “ethos, logos, pathos” isolates each of these components, in particular ethos from pathos; but Quintilian understands pathos and ethos as two varieties of feelings (adfectus):

Pathos and ēthos are sometimes of the same nature, the one to a greater and the other to a lesser degree, as love, for instance, will be pathos, and friendship ēthos, and sometimes of a different nature, as pathos in a peroration will excite the judges, and ēthos soothe them. (IO, VI, 2, 12)

Of feelings, as we are taught by the old writers, there are two kinds, the first of which the Greeks included under the term πάθος (pathos), which we translate rightly and literally by the word “passion” [adfectus]. The other, to which they give the appellation ἦθος (ēthos), for which, as I consider, the Roman language has no equivalent term, is rendered, however, by mores, “manners”; whence that part of philosophy, which the Greeks call ἠθική (ēthikē), is called moralis, “moral”. 9. […] The more cautious writers, therefore, have chosen rather to express the sense than to interpret the words and have designated the one class of feelings as the more violent, the other as the more gentle and calm, under pathos they have included the stronger passions, under ēthos the gentler, saying that the former are adapted to command, the latter to persuade, the former to disturb, the latter to conciliate. 10. Some of the very learned add that the effect of pathos is but transitory. (Id., 8-10)

The following table summarizes the main complementary oppositions between ethos and pathos.

ethos pathos
has its source in the orator’s character has its source in the occasion
makes the speaker likeable causes a disturbance in the audience
inclines the audience to benevolence entails, snatches the decision
is pleasing is moving
low arousal: calm, measured, sweet high arousal: vehement
typical ethotic emotions: affection, sympathy typical pathemic emotion: love, anger, hate, fear, envy, pity
ongoing thymic tonality of the discourse phasic emotion episodes
convincing commanding
the introduction focuses on ethos the conclusion (end of the discourse) focuses on pathos
speech genre: comedy speech genre: tragedy
type of causes: ethical (moral) type of causes: pathetic
moral satisfaction aesthetic satisfaction

As two complementary kinds of feelings, the ethos organizes the ongoing thymic basic tonality of the discourse, upon which the speaker will base the phasic variations of intensity which characterize episodes of emotion. The doses of ethos and pathos must be carefully balanced according to the objectives of the discourse.

1.2 The pathos: a bundle of emotions

Aristotle distinguishes in the Rhetoric a dozen of basic rhetorical social emotions assembled in complementary pairs (Rhet., II, 1-11; RR. p. 257-310):

anger vs. calm
friendship vs. enmity, hatred
fear vs. confidence
shame vs. impudence
kindness, helpfulness vs. unkindness (eliminating the feeling of kindness)
pity vs. indignation
envy vs. emulation.

This enumeration does not cover all the political and judicial emotions:

Aristotle neglects, as not relevant for this purpose, a number of emotions that a more general independently conceived treatment of the emotions would presumably give prominence to. Thus grief, pride (of family, ownership, accomplishments), (erotic) love, joy, and yearning for an absent or lost loved one (Greek pothos) hardly come in for mention in the Rhetoric […] The same is true even for regret, which one would think would be of special importance for an ancient orator to know about, especially in judicial contexts. (Cooper 1996, p. 251)

1.3 Manipulating through emotions

The question of the impact of emotion on judgment is that of the equilibrium between logo-ic demonstration on the one side, and ethotic and pathemic pressures on the other side. Logical arguments transform the representations, and representations determine the will; but, in some situations, pathos can nonetheless outweigh the will. This makes pathos something mysterious and powerful, a little bit superhuman, a little bit demonic. Classical texts abound in such declarations opposing the pathos to the logos, that is emotions to reason and judgment, in terms of their decision-making capacity:

Now nothing in oratory is more important than to win for the orator the favor of his public, and to have the latter so affected as to be swayed by something resembling a mental impulse or emotion, rather than by judgment or deliberation. For men decide far more problems by hate, or love, or lust, or rage, or sorrow, or joy, or hope, or fear, or illusion, or some other inward emotion, than by reality, or authority or any legal standard, or judicial precedent, or statute. (Cicero, De Or., 178 XLII).

In a resounding passage, Quintilian opposes the pedestrian character of argument to the violent and vicious action of emotion:

As to arguments, they generally arise out of the cause, and are more numerous on the side that has the greater justice, so that he who gains his cause by force of arguments will only have the satisfaction of knowing that his advocate did not fail him. 5. But when violence is to be offered to the minds of the judges and their thoughts are to be drawn away from the contemplation of truth, then is this peculiar duty of the orator required. This the contending parties cannot teach; this cannot be put into written instructions. (IO VI, 2, 4-5)

Such praises of passionate speech as capable of swaying the judge away from reality and truth is the source of the still prevailing manipulative vision of rhetoric.

2. Rhetoric and magic

One may be taken aback by such an open acknowledgements of the cynical, immoral and manipulative character of rhetorical pathemic persuasion. But one can remain skeptical as to the very possibility of such manipulation. Firstly such claims must be taken with a pinch of salt. They can be read as a form of professional advertisement intended to magnify the powers of the professional rhetorician, and push up course fees: “follow my teaching, and you’ll become a magician of spoken word!”.

More important, perhaps, as Romilly points out when referring to Gorgias, is the fact that these claims seem to transfer the virtues attributed to magic speech to emotional rhetorical speech: “what can we say about that, except that, by ways that seem irrational, the words bind and affect the listener in spite of himself?” (Romilly 1988, p. 102). This is precisely Socrates’ viewpoint when he holds that the art of speech-makers:

is part of the enchanters’ art and but slightly inferior to it. For the enchanter’s art consists in charming vipers and scorpions and other wild things, and in curing diseases, while the other art consists in charming and persuading the members of juries and assemblies and other sorts of crowds. (Plato, Euthydemus, XVII, 289e, p. 130).

Magic formulas, as chanted by Tibullus, had actually the power to alter the very physical perception of reality:

For me she [= the witch] made chants you can use to deceive.
Sing them thrice, and spit thrice when you have sung.
Then he [= your husband] cannot believe anyone about us, not even
if he himself has seen us on the soft bed.
Tibullus, Elegy I, 2, v. 55sq (my emphasis)[1]

Pericles’ persuasive speech had the same powers:

Plutarch quotes the words of an opponent of Pericles, who was asked who, out of him and Pericles, was the strongest in the fight. His answer was: ‘“when I bring him down in the fight, he argues that he did not fall, and he wins by persuading all the assistants” (Pericles, 8). (Id., p. 119)

Note that the defeated Pericles addresses his persuasive speech to the public, not to his victorious opponent, who holds him firmly on the ground. The argumentative situation is in fact a three-pole situation, involving the speaker, the adversary and the judge(s), S. Roles.

Whatever may be, these views express an age-old classical and popular theory of the functioning of the human mind, for which emotion, will and action oppose, distort and victoriously compete with reason, understanding and contemplation.

In contrast with all these declarations, Aristotle simply warns against the overly effective use of the pathos:

It is not right to pervert the judge by moving him to anger, envy or pity — one might as well warp a carpenter’s rule before using it. (Rhet., I, 1, 1354a25; RR, p. 96-97)

The judge is “the rule.” The rejection of pathos is not based on moral considerations but on a cognitive imperative; to distort the rule is harmful not only to others and to the world, but first to oneself; error is more fundamental than deceit.

3. Emotion, from proof to fallacy

The standard theory of fallacies considers affects as the major pollutant of rational discursive behavior; to be valid, the argumentative discourse should be an-emotional. Pathos, the essential component of rhetorical argumentation, is therefore the typical target of this criticism. The “passions” are collected into a family of ad passiones fallacies, and these are to be eliminated. This is an essential point of articulation and opposition between rhetorical and logical-epistemic argumentation. With the capacity to subvert the mind and bypass rational reflection, emotions are considered to be the most powerful of rhetorical tools and, for the same reason, they are prohibited by within critical argumentation.

3.1 Ad passiones arguments

The standard theory of fallacies considers that reason risks being overshadowed wherever emotion is allowed to blossom in discourse:

I add finally, when an Argument is borrowed from any Topic which are suited to engage the Inclinations and Passions of the Hearers on the side of the Speaker, rather than to convince the Judgment, this is Argumentum ad passiones, an Address to the Passions: or, if it be made publicly, ’tis called an Appeal to the People. (Watts, Logick, 1725, quoted in Hamblin 1970, p. 164; capitalized in the text).

In an argumentative situation, emotions, like fallacies, tend to be the emotion of the other, the opponent: “I try to remain cool and reasonable, why are you getting so excited?”. This is a current strategy in controversies on scientific as well as on political topics (Doury 2000). It can be considered to be a typical case of ad fallaciam argument, S. Evaluation.

These sophisms of passion are not included in the original Aristotelian list, S. Fallacy (2). The label “ad + Latin Name” was widely used in modern times to refer to “fallacies of emotion”, and traces of this use are still to be found. The ad passiones herbarium is well supplied: as shown by Hamblin’s list of fallacious arguments in ad: the labels making a clear and direct reference to the affects have been underlined.

The argumentum ad hominem, the argumentum ad verecundiam, the argumentum ad misericordiam, and the argumenta ad ignorantiam, populum, baculum, passiones, superstitionem, imaginationem, invidiam (envy), crumenam (purse), quietem (repose, conservatism), metum (fear), fidem (faith), socordiam (weak-mindedness), superbiam (pride), odium (hatred), amicitiam (friendship), ludicrum (dramatics), captandum vulgus (playing for the gallery), fulmen [thunderbolt], vertiginem (dizziness)) and a carcere (from prison). We feel like adding: ad nauseam but even this has been suggested before. (Hamblin, 1970, p. 41)

This list contains not only emotional arguments: for example, the appeal to ignorance (ad ignorantiam) is an epistemic, not an emotional argument. Others designate various forms of appeal to subjectivity, but the majority of the labels mentioned refers to personal interests and have a clear emotional content. Nonetheless, the concept of emotional language and the analytical method backing the diagnostic of these ad passiones fallacious appeals remain unclear.

The literature on fallacies mentions a dozen fallacies involving emotions, mainly fallacies in ad; as permitted by the generic ad passiones label, this list can be expanded to include all emotions.

— fear, designated either directly (ad metum) or metonymically by the instrument of threat, ad baculum, a carcere, ad fulmen, ad crumenam
— respectful fear, ad reverentiam
— affection, love, friendship, ad amicitiam
— joy, gaiety, laughter: ad captandum vulgus; ad ludicrum; ad ridiculum
— pride, vanity, ad superbiam
— calm, laziness, tranquility, ad quietem
— envy, ad invidiam
— popular feeling, ad populum
— indignation, anger, hatred: ad odium; ad personam
— modesty: ad verecundiam
— pity: ad misericordiam.

It should be pointed out that basic emotions mingle with vices (pride, envy, hatred, laziness) and virtues (pity, modesty, friendship), which are evaluated emotional states.

One can see that the list of emotions composing the pathos in the preceding paragraph and the list of emotions stigmatized as fallacies, largely overlap. The pathemic proofs of rhetoric have become the sophisms ad passiones in the modern standard fallacy theory.

3.2 Four “emotional fallacies”:
ad hominem, ad baculum, ad populum, ad ignoratiam

All emotions can intervene in ordinary argumentative speech, but not all of these emotions have received the same attention, the focus being placed on the emotional and subjective character of the following four fallacies.

— Arguments attacking the opponent, and other manifestations of contempt, S. Personal Attack; Dismissal. Ad hominem involves epistemic subjectivity, not emotions.

— The call to popular feelings in populist argumentation corresponds to a complex range of positive or negative emotional movements: the public is amused, enthusiastic, pleased, ashamed; the speech plays on its pride, vanity, incites hatred, etc., S. Ad Populum; Laughter, Irony.

— Ad baculum argument relies on various forms of threat or intimidation. Fear, possibly respectful, is opposed to the positive emotion of hope, created by the promise of a reward, S. Threat.

— The appeal to pity, ad misericordiam, may serve as a fundamental example of the role of emotion in argumentation. Firstly, the speaker S has to back his or her appeal to pity, justifications are necessary to produce in the listener L a movement of pity. Then, L will take his or her well-constructed emotion as a good reason to help L, S. Emotion.

In conclusion, rhetoric and argumentation can be opposed on the basis of their relation to affects. If there is a concept of argument defined within rhetoric (inventio), there is also a concept of argument defined against rhetoric. Rhetoric is oriented towards discourse production, whilst argumentation is oriented towards the critical reception of discourse. Confronting proactive, aggressive, rhetorical precepts, critical argumentation is defensive.

4. Emotion rationality and action

The field of argumentation is built on the rejection of the evidence that rhetoric considers the strongest: the ethotic and pathemic proofs. This an-emotional vision of argumentation corresponds to a classical and popular vision of the functioning of the human mind, which opposes reason, understanding, and contemplation respectively to emotion, will and action. The following passage is a synthesis of this representation:

Hitherto we have dealt with the proofs of truth, which constrains human understanding when it knows them, and for this they are effective in persuading men accustomed to follow reason. But they are incapable of compelling the will to follow them, since, like Medea, according to Ovid, “I see and approve the best; I follow the worst.” This arises from the misuse of the passions of the soul, and therefore we must deal with them in so far as they produce persuasion, and this in the popular manner, and not with all this subtlety possible if one treated philosophically. (Mayans and Siscar 1786, p. 144)

Two functions are assigned to the “passions”: they alter the perception of reality, put knowledge between parenthesis and, in so doing, give a decisive impulse to action. This vision or emotion as a stimulus to action seems to be grounded in an etymological argument. The word emotion derives from Lat. emovere, e- (ex-) “out of” and movere, “to move”; an emotion is something that “sets people in motion”. In any case, passions are the almighty manipulative instrument of action-oriented discourse favored by rhetoric, and the main enemy of truth oriented discourse favored by logicians.

In the middle of the twentieth century, the psychologists Fraisse & Piaget considered that emotion is not an organized reaction but a disorder of conduct, resulting in a “decrease in the level of performance” (1968, p. 98):

People get angry when they substitute violent words and gestures for efforts to find a solution to the difficulties they experience (solving a conflict, overcoming an obstacle). […] [Anger] is also a response to the situation (hitting an object or a person who resists you), but the level of that response is lower than it should be, given the standards of a given culture. (Ibid.)

According to this vision, emotion would trigger low-quality behavior, and therefore poor quality reasoning. In interaction, it would be necessarily manipulative: the candidate cries in an effort to distract the examiner from his or her shortcomings, magically reframing the examination situation into a more interpersonal, private, relation.

This leads to a kind of paradox: for rhetoricians, emotions lead to action while psychologists on the other hand, consider that emotions deteriorate action. Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca share this vision of emotions as “obstacles” to reason, and thus consider emotions to be incompatible with sound argument. Yet they retain the motivational quality of emotion in order to explain the relevance of argumentative discourse for action. The solution is found in a dissociation@ opposing emotions to values:

We should point out that the passions as obstacles must not be confused with the passions that provide a support for a positive argument. The latter will generally be designated by a less pejorative term, such as value, for instance. (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca [1958], p. 475 ; my emphasis)

By this skillful operation, emotions are disposed of, and these remain pejoratively marked as obstacles to reason, while their dynamic potential is transferred to values. So the effect of argument can be extended beyond the mere production of mental persuasion to become the determiner of action,  (id., p. 45); S. Persuasion

5. Emotion, alexithymia and everyday rationality

If emotions are seen as the ideal manipulative tool, the equation “emotion = fallacy” seems more than justified, so, extending the example of scientific language to ordinary linguistic practices, a solution can be found in the pure and simple elimination of emotions. But the price to pay for the elimination of emotions from ordinary discourse is high: in everyday circumstances, the use of an-emotional discourse is actually considered to be the symptom of a mental disturbance, alexithymia. The word alexithymia is composed of three lexemes a-lexis-thymos, “lack – of words – for emotion”; alexithymic language is defined as a language from which all expression of feelings and emotions is banished:

Alexithymia: term proposed by Sifneos to describe patients predisposed to psychosomatic disorders and characterized by: 1) the inability to verbally express the affects; 2) the poverty of imaginary life; (3) the tendency to resort to action; and (4) the tendency to focus on the material and objective aspects of events, situations and relationships. (Cosnier 1994, p. 160)

Such a discourse which is deprived of emotion is reduced to the expression of operational thinking, mirroring, “a mental mode of functioning organized on the purely factual aspects of everyday life. The discourse that makes it possible to spot it is characterized by objectivity and ignores any fantasy, emotional expression or subjective evaluation” (id., p. 141).

Similarly, the repression of affect by the neurotic personality can lead to the same result. From a neurobiological perspective, Damasio has shown that a theory of pure logical reasoning, leaving aside the emotions, cannot account for the way people actually deal with everyday issues:

The ‘high-reason’ view, which is none other than the common­ sense view, assumes that when we are at our decision-making best, we are the pride and joy of Plato, Descartes and Kant. Formal logic will, by itself, get us to the best available solution for any problem. An important aspect of the rationalist conception is that to obtain the best results, emotions must be kept out. Rational processing must be unencumbered by passion. (1994, p. 171)

Pure reasoning on everyday affairs can actually be observed in patients having suffered prefrontal damages:

What the experience with patients such as Elliot suggests is that the cool strategy advocated by Kant, among others, has far more to do with the way patients with prefrontal damage go about deciding than with how normals usually operate. (Id., p. 172)

The exclusion of subjectivity and emotions risks transforming argumentation into an operative alexithymic practice. As far as argumentation studies are interested in the treatment of everyday problems in common language, they cannot adopt as ideal discourse the discourse of neurotic, alexithymic or brain damaged individuals. The question of how emotions develop in argumentative discourse demands much more than simple a priori censorship. The adequate level of emotionality will be one of the by-product of a felicitous argumentative exchange.

[1] The Complete Poems of Tibullus: An En Face Edition. Trans. by R. G. Dennis and M. C. J. Putnam. With an Introd. by J. H. Gaisser. Berkeley, etc: University of California Press, 2013.