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What Are the Different Types of Rhetorical Tactics?

By Lee Johnson
Updated May 23, 2024
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Many rhetorical tactics are used by writers, advertisers, and politicians in order to convince the listeners or readers to accept the arguments they make. The most basic way of splitting up rhetorical tactics is to class them as relating to either ethos, pathos, or logos. Ethos relates to the credibility, reliability, and character of the writer or speaker, and can be appealed to using tactics such as exemplum. Pathos is an appeal to the emotions of the listener, which can use techniques such as personification. Finally, logos is the use of logic to either create arguments or point out errors within an opponent’s reasoning, often done through use of syllogisms, a logical tactic.

Several different rhetorical tactics exist, and these can usually be classed as either relating to pathos, ethos or logos. Tactics are otherwise called rhetorical devices, and they are essentially techniques that are used to appeal to the audience and make them agree or disagree with the argument being put forward. For example, a politician may use hyperbole to exaggerate issues with another politician’s policies, thus eliciting an emotional, pathos response in the audience.

Pathos is a group of rhetorical tactics which appeal to the emotions of the listeners or readers. The aim is to create an emotional response in the audience which encourages them to agree with the arguer’s point. For example, a politician looking to gain power may use the tactic of personification to describe the state of the country in a more emotive fashion. He or she may say “the country is lying bleeding, diseased, and abandoned on the cold floor, and my opponent refuses to admit it,” to elicit an emotional response in the audience.

Ethos is another group of rhetorical tactics commonly used to add credibility to an argument or remove it. It specifically focuses on the qualities of the speaker, as opposed to the content of the argument being put forward. Tactics relating to ethos, such as exemplum, enable the speaker to shift the focus from the actual content of the discussion to the qualities of the person putting the argument forward. For example, a politician may use exemplum — Latin for "an example" — to show how his or her opponent has lied in the past to discredit what he or she is saying. This could be done by saying "this is coming from my opponent, who promised to lower all taxes before he was elected but then raised income tax on his first day in office."

Logos is the final group of rhetorical tactics, and it focuses either on pointing out logical flaws in an opponent's arguments or creating perfectly logical arguments. Any tactic which makes use of logic, such as a syllogism, can fall under the logos type. For example, an advertisement may implicitly or explicitly state the hypothetical syllogism, “If you have bad breath, then nobody will like you. If you use Product X, then you won’t have bad breath, therefore, if you use Product X, then people will like you.” This is phrased as a syllogism, or a three-part argument, which adds believability, but it also contains an error which can be pointed out by an opponent to counter the argument.

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