There is a theory called Aristotle’s Rhetoric. It means Aristotle’s model for explaining humans’ persuasion.
When I was trying to figure out what motivates people to do what they do, hoping to gain business success through it, I was quite captivated by this theory. This was mainly because of how popular it was. Added to that the incredible credibility of Aristotle, I had myself (what I thought was) the holy grail of human behavioral theories. I was completely convinced that if I were to master it, I could use it as the core philosophy of my entrepreneurial journey to attract thousands of customers to my future businesses. I was wrong.
Calling it “rhetoric” instead of “persuasion” makes it sound more romantic to me. It makes me think of it as a secret set of tricks, a piece of ancient wisdom, passed down through generations. It makes me think it was used by old men with white robes draped over their shoulders when they addressed small gatherings of townsfolk in ancient Greece. Who are we but clueless idiots compared to those wise men, I used to think.
Before we begin, I should come clean. I used “Aristotle’s Lies” in the title because it grabs your attention more by promising you a revelation that the ancient philosopher’s wisdom is not as great as you had known it to be. That is not exactly what you will find here… this article will not expose Aristotle for being a liar. What it will do instead is reveal how his persuasion model, while being technically correct, what it implies can heavily mislead you and leave you stranded mentally. When taken as advise, the model gives you a terrible approach to persuading any audience. It can easily have you trying to wag the dog by the tail.
This lesson is the first one in the “Customer is King” part of the series. The knowledge given in this lesson will set the foundation for the whole segment. After the end of the series, you may revisit this article, at which point you will have a completely different understanding of it.
Let’s get cracking then.
According to Aristotle, there are three main factors that persuade an audience. They are namely Ethos, Pathos and Logos.
While they have been interpreted in various forms, this is what they meant for me at the time.
Ethos is the appeal born from authority. When a cop asks you to stop on the street, you do it because of the authority he holds. A soldier fights a battle he doesn’t believe in because of the orders from a person of authority. These statements are technically correct, but misleading.
Pathos is the appeal of emotion. When a homeless person standing on the street plays a sad tune on his mouth organ, and you are persuaded to give him money, then it’s because he moves you emotionally. Out of three appeals of rhetoric, this one is more special than the other two. You’ll get to know why that is, later.
Logos is the appeal of logic. This is when someone persuades you with numbers and statistics. When you switch from one product to another because Scientific research has proven that is 15% more effective, that is logos, according to Aristotle. Again, absolutely correct, but very misleading.
If you need more clarification, please Google “ethos pathos logos examples” and go to images.
Basically, if a speaker’s message successfully persuades/motivates an audience (one or more people) to act/behave/perform in the way intended by the speaker, then that message is said to have one or more of the three components of rhetoric.
I clearly remember thinking back then that logos must be the strongest one of the three. The reason I thought that was because I viewed logic to be the truth… and pathos and ethos to be deceptions that one uses to cover up the lack of logic, a lie. I thought of politicians
Now, while researching this theory, I found numerous analysis of popular advertisements which broke them down to the three components in Aristotle’s model. I’ll post below a few examples I found by doing a quick Google search.
Note: While searching for these advertisements, I was reminded of the existence of two additional components of the model, namely “Telos” and “Kairos” which mean appeal to purpose and appeal to timeliness respectively. Now, we don’t need to concern ourselves with them at all because none of the components will matter when we take the whole thing apart a few paragraphs below.
Analyzing the advertisements was really fascinating and interesting to me… analyzing all the colorful magazine advertisements. It was like getting a voyeuristic view into the minds of the geniuses behind clever traps… or so I thought. I watched countless advertisements trying to take them apart into the three components.
In my head, the physical world and the emotional world were two separate things. The physical world existed outside the human mind, whereas emotions resided inside. The physical world was logical, rational, “real”. The emotional world was “fake”… humans denying their realities, made up, and so didn’t really count. Spoiler alert, I was very wrong.
Remember at the beginning I said this model is technically correct? Well, that is not exactly true either. The whole thing falls apart quite soon when you analyze it.
I saw Aristotle, his rhetoric model and the academics who stand by it like a single giant pillar of stone firmly rooted in the ground. It had been there for ages, standing tall, so solemnly and gracefully, indifferent to all the young masses (like me) who have stood before it, trying to figure it out. Many students had succeeded in doing so, and joined the experts who now preach it to new students. The theory was right. It was my job to figure it out. It seemed obviously foolish to challenge it. The big rock was not moving anywhere, I had to work everything else around it. And everything would fit perfectly, it had to (because it was Aristotle the sage I was dealing with), I was just not smart enough to see how it does yet.
This was my thought process back then.
I did see many discrepancies while reading through examples of rhetoric. However, like mentioned above, since I had already established Aristotle to be correct, I deemed all doubts about the theory to be invalid. I discarded those thoughts accounting them to my failure to grasp the theory. I had not understood it properly, I thought.
Ironically, it was in my discarded thoughts that true wisdom lied. What I was looking for was in the very place that I had decided not to look.
Although I tried to work pathos and logos into the theory somehow, I finally found out it had always been pathos all along.
That realization hit me gradually over the course of a few days. And when I finally understood it, everything made so much more sense.
I realized that just because Aristotle lived in ancient times in Greece, wore a robe, had a beard and has white statues of his head in museums, it doesn’t make him immune to mistakes. Now that might seem like an obvious statement to make. But you’d be surprised how intimidating it feels to doubt the teachings of someone who has statues of themselves behind panes of glass inside big important buildings. Again, those things should not make me doubt what seems obvious to me, but they do. As you will learn through the course of this lesson series, you will realize that you are (your mind is) always tricking yourself with something “irrational”.
I realized probably all the academics who peddle this have also noticed chinks in the armor of the rhetoric model, but hidden them from their students, probably feeling insecure about not fully understanding it. They probably wished no student would mention it in their classes. Meanwhile I, being a student myself, thought I had to avoid such questions from the teacher, thinking I was the one who didn’t fully understand it.
When that realization hit me, the whole thing seemed like two people sitting in a waiting room and both of them fart at the same time, and neither one of them acknowledges it, both unaware of the other person’s offense, both thinking they are the only one. And they both uncomfortably scroll on their phones, trying to pretend nothing happened, fearing the other person might bring it up.
It’s quite ironic when you think about it. It’s like you keep running from a scary demon. But you are too scared to admit to yourself of its existence.
Little do you know, the demon is actually pleasantly surprised that you are frightened by it. The demon is counting on your (irrational) fear… because guess what, it’s fake! (like three babies in a trench coat). And it knows that if you were to stop and take one good look at it, you’d notice that you don’t have to be scared of it at all. You would be calling its bluff. In fact, you won’t be able to scare yourself of it again (unless you are scared of talented babies). More importantly, you would realize that it was your fear of the fake demon that had been leading you in the wrong direction. In fact, all you had been doing is trying to run away from the monster, without realizing it. You had been unknowingly glancing over your shoulder so often that you had practically forgotten to look where you are going. And now that the dark cloud that loomed over your head is gone, you can finally see the path that leads to the right answers as clear as day.
The demon I had been running from was the fake quality of absolute perfection and greatness I had attributed to Aristotle, his theories and all the scholars that taught it. To be more precise, it was my conviction that the above quality is one I should feel intimidated by that was the demon.
Now, the question is, how do you recognize that you are running away from a demon of your own creation? And more importantly, how do you convince yourself to stop running, turn around and stare into the face of your demon? I mean, as long as you are concerned, it’s a demon after all.
Did you know that what you are supposed to do if you are ever charged by a gorilla in the jungle is stand perfectly still? (assuming you don’t want to die). Apparently they are not trying to attack you. What they do is they try to gauge what type of animal you are, so they know how to treat you (kill or let live), by trying to intimidate you. And if you call their bluff, they respect your presence, and simply walk away. But how do you do it? How do you tell yourself to trust the words of whoever wrote that Wikipedia article, when you are in the middle of the Amazon and suddenly out of the bushes a 300-pound black ball of fur charges directly at you at 25 miles per hour? For that, you need absolute confidence from absolute conviction of your wisdom.
Sadly, you have to wait until the final part of this series to learn about that… because to make use of that wisdom, you need to train your mind to view reality using the knowledge you gather up to that point.
Coming back to the lesson at hand, I realized that every single thing that every human being does is motivated by their inner emotional responses to their perceptions of reality. No matter what physical form the thing in front of them could have, it is what emotions that create
I advise you to take day or two to think long and hard about this. Try to identify the emotional incentives that motivate you to do everything you do. And when you do that, you need to be as detailed as you can. You need to be honest to yourself. Look inside your mind with your eyes wide open.
So in a way, we are sort of debunking this theory. I guess Aristotle did lie… depending on how you look at it. However, the journey I started from this theory did eventually lead me to where I am today, teaching business philosophy to others, so I have to thank Aristotle for that.
If you haven’t figured out already, this won’t be a lesson series that discusses statistics, trends or anything out there. Instead, we will discuss in depth about things in here, inside our heads… because I realized everything out there is created in here. If I do a good job of communicating what is in my head to you, and you do a good job of following all the details closely, this series would be the most eye-opening and life-changing experience you will ever have. And I don’t mean that lightly.
All human behavior is motivated by emotions based on individual perceptions.
Context is just as important as content. In fact, it is a part of it. And it greatly impacts the perception of the observant.
All successful business transactions involve an exchange of values.
The deciding factor which makes or breaks a business lies in the minds of its audience, as opposed to the business itself.
I learned that ethos and logos are also nothing but emotions disguised as otherwise. Now, this might sound hard to believe at first, specially regarding logic, but through the course of this lesson you will come to realize that they are merely perceived patterns that do not really exist.