In order to build a correct representation of the world, knowledge-oriented theories of argumentation focus on phenomenon concerning the objects of debate (categorizations; physical surroundings of the facts; probable and necessary signs; causal and analogical networks, etc.), and the representational function of language (well-built definitions, univocity, etc.). The construction and strategic management of people and their emotions is essential in the overall orientation of rhetorical discourse towards persuasion and action: its goals are to make people think, feel and act. The accomplished action is the only criterion of successful persuasion, which would be unduly reduced to creating or strengthening the mind’s adherence to a thesis, S. . The rhetorical judge is not persuaded if he does not pronounce in favor of the party who convinced him.
The connections between convictions and actions are far from clear, S. Motives and Reasons. It is said that a MP once replied to someone who tried to convince him to alter his opinion, “you can certainly change my opinion, but you will not change my vote”; this quip highlights the crucial difference between the determiners of representation and those of action.
The rhetorical technique provides three instruments of persuasion (pistis) respectively drawn from the logos, the ethos and the pathos. These instruments, sometimes called “proofs”, are used by the speaker not only to make believe, but also to guide the will and determine the action.
Of the modes of persuasion offered by the spoken word there are three kinds: the first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience in a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself. (Rhet., I, 2, 1356a1; RR, p. 105).
All three forms are discourse dependent; logo-ic evidence is purely discursive, while ethotic and pathemic evidence is discursive and para-discursive. The parallel, “ethos, pathos, logos” tends to assimilate these three kinds of evidence, which leads to define rhetorical evidence as any sign, verbal or non-verbal, capable of inducing a belief.
Cicero and the later rhetorical catechisms assign three goals to the speaker engaged in a persuasion process. S/he must prove (probare), please (conciliare), and move (movere) (De Or., II, XXVII, p. 114).
— First teach, that is, inform, narrate and argue, via the logos. . That is to say that the speech must inform, narrate and argue. This teaching thus takes an intellectual approach in achieving persuasion, that of evidence and deduction.
— Yet information and argumentation may be weakened by the boredom and incomprehension of the audience. The listener must therefore be given peripheral indications, and this is the function of ethos (“maybe you don’t quite understand, anyway you can trust me”).
— But logos and ethos do not have the power to trigger the “acting out”, hence the recourse to pathos. It is not enough to see the good, it is still necessary to want it; the almost physical emotional stimuli produced by the orator, that is the pathos, are supposedly the final determinants of the will and action.
Evidence based on logos is considered to be logical”, objective, at least the only one of the three to serve as proof in the proper sense of the term. Firstly, it meets, at least partially, the propositional condition for reasoning (to be expressed in an identifiable statement, evaluable independently from the conclusion is supports), so it is open to refutation. In contrast, pathemic and ethotic evidences, by nature subjective, are expressed indirectly, through the subtlest channels, and are therefore hardly accessible to verbal refutation.
Classical texts insist on the practical superiority of the subjective proofs, ethos and pathos, over objective ones. Aristotle poses the primacy of the ethos: “[the speaker’s] character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion” (Rhet., I, 2, 1356a10; RR, p. 106), and warns against the overly effective use of the pathos. Cicero and Quintilian quasi assimilate ethos to pathos, in order to affirm the practical supremacy of emotions.