Ethos, Pathos, and Logos Applied:
George W. Bush Speaking at 'Ground Zero'

In Aristotle's Rhetoric, he identifies three artistic proofs that make up the art of rhetoric. These proofs include ethos (character), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic or words), which provide resources of communication that are available to the public speaker or persuader (Simons, H. W., 2001). In essence, these are ways in which things are proven to us. When these proofs are applied to a modern day scenario, their true nature of helping us understand public speaking and persuasion stands out. One of George W. Bush's speeches after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, will draw more light to Aristotle's proofs. This essay will define and apply ethos, pathos, and logos to President Bush's speech at 'Ground Zero' on September 14, 2001. I will provide a background, main analysis, and a discussion on the artistic proofs.

 

Background

 

George W. Bush has become notorious for being a poor orator. Many critics of Bush have bashed him for his verbal mistakes and for his choice of wording (Lowry, R., 2001; Lumpkin, B., 2002). He was even criticized for not speaking to the nation soon enough after the terrorist attacks on September 11. However, on September 14, he gave one of the best speeches of his life. He spoke only thirteen sentences and did so in only three minutes.

On September 14, Bush took a short helicopter tour of the devastated New York area and then walked between the piles of rubble. He talked with volunteers, firefighters, and police officers. Hearing chants of "USA! USA!" from the workers, Bush took hold of a bullhorn, climbed to the top of a small pile of rubble, and put his arm around a fire fighter. Here is a transcript of what happened:

CROWD: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. I want you all to know --

Q: Can't hear you.

THE PRESIDENT: I can't talk any louder. (Laughter.) I want you all to know that America today -- that America today is on bended knee in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn. This nation stands with the good people of New York City, and New Jersey and Connecticut, as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens.

Q: I can't hear you.

THE PRESIDENT: I can hear you. (Applause.) I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. (Applause.) And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. (Applause.)

CROWD: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

THE PRESIDENT: The nation sends its love and compassion to everybody who is here. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for making the nation proud. And may God bless America. (Applause.)

CROWD: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! (The President waves small American flag.) (Applause.) (nando.net, 2001).

 

Analysis

 

Applying Aristotle's proofs to this situation will (1) clarify their definitions, (2) expose their utility, and (3) draw insight to Bush's speech.

Ethos

Ethos refers to "the study of human character" and "the persuasive potential of the speaker's character and personal credibility" (Herrick, J. A., 2001). According to Aristotle, this proof was potentially the most persuasive, although, logos or logic may be considered most important today. When one's character is seen as positive, we especially trust or have confidence in the person trying to persuade us (Andrews, P. H., Andrews, J. A., & Williams, G., 2002). When the speaker is seen as trustworthy, knowledgeable, and interested in the audience, the audience will likely accept what the speaker says as true.

Bush's display of ethos during this speech was ubiquitous. Being a president that is willing to come to the heart of the tragedy that had just occurred, automatically lifted his character to that of a person who is caring, compassionate, and interested. His sense of eunoia or goodwill was seen throughout his speech.

Bush's slight nonverbal actions also bolstered his sense of character. Throughout most of his speech, he kept his arm wrapped around a lead firefighter working at the scene. The two men, standing in front of onlookers and millions of Americans watching television, looked as if they were good friends, glancing and nodding at one another. Interestingly, Bush's three minute speech was completely audience centered, which has been known to affect ethos (Andrews, P. H., Andrews, J. A., & Williams, G., 2002). In all, his character and personhood came across as that of a conscientious, concerned person. His character shinned when he eloquently stated, "And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon." Bush was persuading the workers and the nation that our country is in safe hands and that we will find whoever did these terrible acts.

Pathos

Pathos refers to the study of human emotion, emotional appeals, and the act of "putting the audience in the right frame of mind" (Herrick, J. A., 2001). This emotional side of the speech usually influences our beliefs and has the potential to influence our actions. According to Aristotle, pathos is evident when the audience is "roused to emotion by speech" (Aristotle, trans. 1982). The issues of morality also come into play. Aristotle felt that there is a moral imperative for correct judgment.

Before Bush even spoke a word, emotions were at large. The crowd was chanting, "USA! USA!" A feel of patriotism and pride mixed with an odd sense of defeat and disgust surrounded the area and nation. When a man shouted that he could not hear Bush speak, and Bush replied, "I can't talk any louder," the crowd laughed, putting them in a state of emotional happiness. When Bush thanked the workers for their treacherous labor, a sense of pride and heroism was felt.

Within pathos, Aristotle makes a distinction between fear appeals and pity appeals. He classifies fear appeals as the fear of physical harm or death, fear of loss, or deprivation of freedom (Herrick, J. A., 2001). When Bush yelled, "And the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon," he was not creating fear in American lives, but he was appealing to the fears of whoever knocked down the buildings. In addition, he used this fear appeal (aimed at the opposers) to motivate, inspire, and persuade Americans that we will retaliate. Aristotle also classified pity appeals, which suggest or state "that someone or something helpless is being harmed" (Herrick, J. A., 2001). Bush's numerous statements, such as, "The nation sends its love and compassion to everybody who is here", bring out emotions of pity and sympathy, placing America as the "helpless and harmed." In addition, the war torn environment in which the speech took place added to the emotional situation. Pathos was probably more influential than any of the other proofs in this speech.

Logos

Logos has numerous definitions, but usually refers to the words used, logical content or reasoning, or thought expressed in words (Herrick, J. A., 2001). Logos also means logical sense and may suggest intellect or rationality. It is also the study of "the arguments typical of the reasoning employed in practical decision making" (Herrick, J. A., 2001).

The concept of logos in Bush's speech may be the hardest of the proofs to understand at first sight when looking at the speech. Looking at specific word use, Bush used an immense amount of religious jargon. Phrases such as, "On bended knee in prayer" and "May God bless America," appealed to both emotions (pathos) and to ways of thought (logos) and religion.

Logos took place on another level as well. There was an argument that the country is united, still alive, and ready to 'be heard.' When Bush commented that "The nation stands with the good people of New York City, and New Jersey and Connecticut," he used logic to create an imaginary link of unification between the people devastated around the county. On another side, he also made a subtle argument by his threat to those who highjacked the planes and created such massive destruction.

 

Discussion

Bush did not just use logos, pathos, or ethos alone. He used them in unison. He used them to create a wholesome speech that was successful. Pathos was used expertly: the audience's feelings, needs, and emotions connected with the speech. Logos, or logical sense was displayed to the listeners throughout the nation. Ethos, or character and credibility, was also eloquently displayed by Bush.

Aristotle's artistic proofs are thousands of years old, however, they still have practical uses. They (1) allow the audience to understand public speeches at a greater depth and (2) allow the speaker to shape and mold her or his speech to one of success. In addition, according to Aristotle, they define the study of rhetoric. I find Aristotle's artistic proofs to be one of the most useful contributions to the study of rhetoric.