Logos, ethos, and pathos

In this section, we will focus on the modes of persuasion used by George Saunders in his commencement address at Syracuse University.

The main modes of persuasion are ethos, pathos, and logos. The speech is dominated by pathos and logos, but ethos is also present at tim…

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Table of contents

Ethos

The use of ethos – the appeal to trust and authority - in this speech is fairly complex.

Because the audience is made up of students at the university at which Saunders teaches, they know that he has been successful in his later career as a professor and an author. Saunders, therefore, doesn’t emphasize these aspects in his speech, but instead mostly focuses on the forms of authority that will resonate with his audience, such as life experience gained through travelling and experimenting. The students may have similar shared e…

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Logos

Logos, the appeal to reason, is used in Saunders’ speech when he uses logical arguments and facts to support his ideas.

For example, logos is used when Saunders talks about parenthood and the way in which having a child changes a person for the better. He adds a context-specific example to the logical argument when he subsequently refers to the students’ parents, who feel “proud and happy”  to see their children graduate.

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will…

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Pathos

Pathos, the appeal to emotions, is one of the dominant forms of appeal in Saunders’ speech.

First, Saunders creates the feeling of happiness when he makes the audience laugh because of his jokes:

Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you). And I intend to respect that tradition. 

Saunders appeals to the feeling of regret when he talks about the failure of being kind. He also forces the audience to think about moments when they also failed to be kind enough towards others:

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedl…

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