Ethos

What is ethos?

Ethos is a form of appeal which appeals to the receivers’ trust in the sender’s authority. Thus, ethos includes all the strategies which the sender of a text might use to appear as a person with authority to speak on the subject. It is normally also part of the intention to appear genuinely interested in solving any issues within the subject.

NB: Ethos is not the same as ethics! The two concepts are sometimes confused since they almost sound the same. There is a connection between the two, though, since presenting yourself as a person of good moral character is one of the ways you might build ethos. However, ethos includes many other strategies, which means that you could easily overlook something if you only focus on the ethics or morality of the sender.

Initial ethos and derived ethos 

According to rhetorical tradition, ethos is sometimes divided into initial ethos and derived ethos.

Initial ethos is the status that the sender already has before the text and its arguments are presented to the receivers. This status might for instance be based on the sender’s profession, fame, or political office. Traditionally, there is a lot of initial ethos associated with people in various positions of authority such as president, professor, religious leader, or royalty. As a contrast, very little initial ethos is associated with senders unknown to the general public - for instance the author of any given reader’s letter in a newspaper. 

A sender might also have negative initial ethos if the person is addressing a group of people that generally do not like the sender. For instance, a right-wing politician writing an article in a left-wing newspaper will most likely have negative initial et...

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