The Three Modes of Persuasion: Socrates Apology

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Ciara Watson

The Three Modes of Persuasion: Socrates’ Apology
In speaking of effective rhetorical persuasion, we must appeal to our target audience in a way that will get them to accept or act upon the point of view we are trying to portray. Aristotle said that we persuade others by three means: (1) by the appeal to their reason (logos); (2) by the appeal to their emotions (pathos); and (3) by the appeal of our personality or character (ethos) (Corbett and Connors 32). When Socrates, an infamous rhetorician, gave his “apology” to his fellow Athenians after being accused of atheism or not believing in the gods and corrupting the youth with similar teachings, he employed all three modes of persuasion to prove his innocence. Despite the imbalance of ethos, logos and pathos throughout his speech, I sustain that Socrates did make use of all three modes in his defense whether tactful or not. In an effort to appeal to his audience based on his own character, Socrates began his defense speech on both an accusatory and self-deprecatory note. While giving his accusers credit for speaking so persuasively that even he nearly forgot himself because of them, he in turn accuses them of saying “so to speak, nothing true” (Fetter 12). In the opening lines of his speech Socrates said, “How you, O Athenians, have been affected by my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that they almost made me forget who I was – so persuasively did they speak; and yet they have hardly uttered a word of truth… they have scarcely spoken the truth at all; from me you shall bear the whole truth…” (Plato 195). He used this initial strategy not only to make a claim against the character of his accusers but to also improve his own character by claiming his word as the only truth, thus setting the tone for the rest of the speech. Socrates then used the story of the Delphi Oracle to build his character as well as disprove the first crime of atheism, only now of stronger grounds as it touches on the...
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