1 Etymology and origin
2 Current usage
4 Character in Greek tragedy
5 Character, or ethos, in pictorial narrative
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Etymology and origin
Ethos (ἦθος, ἔθος, plurals: ethe (ἤθη), ethea (ἤθεα)) is a Greek word originally meaning "accustomed place" (as in ἤθεα ἵππων "the habitat of horses", Iliad 6.511), "custom, habit", equivalent to Latin mores.
Ethos forms the root of ethikos (ἠθικός), meaning "moral, showing moral character". Used as a noun in the neuter plural form ta ethika (τὰ ἠθικά), used for the study of morals, it is the origin of the modern English word ethics.
Ethos can simply mean the disposition, character, or fundamental values particular to a specific person, people, corporation, culture, or movement. The Ethos refers to the spirit which motivates the ideas and customs. As T.S. Eliot wrote, "The general ethos of the people they have to govern determines the behavior of politicians." One historian noted that in the 1920s, "The ethos of the Communist party dominated every aspect of public life in Soviet Russia."
Ethos may change in response to new ideas or forces. Ideas of economic modernisation imported from the West in the 1930s brought about in Jewish settlements in Palestine "the abandonment of the agrarian ethos and the reception of...the ethos of rapid development".
In rhetoric, ethos is one of the three artistic proofs (pistis (πίστις)) or modes of persuasion (other principles being logos and pathos) discussed by Aristotle in 'Rhetoric' as a component of argument. Speakers must establish ethos from the start. This can involve "moral competence" only; Aristotle however broadens the concept to include expertise and knowledge. Ethos is limited, in his view, by what the speaker says. Others however contend that a speaker's ethos extends to and is shaped by the overall moral character and history of the speaker—that is, what people think of his or her character before the speech is even begun (cf Isocrates).
According to Nedra Reynolds, Professor of Writing & Rhetoric, "ethos, like postmodern subjectivity, shifts and changes over time, across texts, and around competing spaces" (Reynolds 336). However, Reynolds additionally discusses how one might clarify the meaning of ethos within rhetoric as expressing inherently communal roots. This stands in direct opposition to what she describes as the claim "that ethos can be faked or 'manipulated'" because individuals would be formed by the values of their culture and not the other way around (Reynolds 336). While its meaning and application within literature might differ over time, this classical interpretation persists.
There are three categories of ethos. phronesis - practical skills & wisdom arete - virtue, goodness eunoia - goodwill towards the audience
In a sense, ethos does not belong to the speaker but to the audience. Thus, it is the audience that determines whether a speaker is a high- or a low-ethos speaker. Violations of ethos include:
The speaker has a direct interest in the outcome of the debate (e.g. a person pleading innocence of a crime);
The speaker has a vested interest or ulterior motive in the outcome of the debate;
The speaker has no expertise (e.g. a lawyer…