The School of Athens by Raphael (1510–1511) (from here)
The School of Athens by Raphael (1510–1511) (details available here)

In the first post of this series, we took up the task of Defining The Law Of The Land. After that, we considered The Purpose Of The Law Of The Land. Here we will look at The Means of Persuasion — Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

The Means of Persuasion — Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

I suppose Rhetoric by Aristotle is another one of those classic works I should have carefully studied a long time ago, but I did not. So now, to discover and try to fill the gaping holes in my education, I blog.


What is rhetoric? Aristotle’s Rhetoric (plato.stanford.edu) provides a detailed analysis of Aristotle’s work.

  • Rhetoric is a skill. “Aristotle defines the rhetorician as someone who is always able to see what is persuasive.”
  • Rhetoric is a tool, one that can be used for either good or ill.
  • Rhetoric is what we use to persuade on those many occasions, a public speech for example, when we need to persuade an audience, and we cannot provide our audience an exact proof based on the principles of a science (even if they could understand).

Rhetoric involves three modes of persuasion: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.

  • Ethos involves establishing credibility. That is establishing with your audience that you are the kind of person they can trust and respect.
  • Logos involves an appeal to reason. If we can convince our audience our proposal makes sense, it is what they would do, they are likely to accept it as their own.
  • Pathos involves appropriately arousing the passion of an audience. When we want people to do something, we have to make them care enough to act. Our arguments have to make them angry enough, fearful enough, sympathetic enough, or…..to act.

With a simple example, this short little video explains the application of these modes of persuasion.

What is most relevant to this post is what that delightful little video leaves out, the frangible nature of Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. Let’s reconsider the meaning of Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.


ethos: the fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society; dominant assumptions of a people or period: In the Greek ethos the individual was highly valued.

What we give credibility depends upon our cultural beliefs. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, and so forth all believe and value distinctly different things. Consider the issue of women’s rights, for example. In some cultures, the notion that women are the equals of men still goes over like a lead balloon.

Over time cultural beliefs can change significantly. Although we take the right of women to vote for granted today, women’s suffrage did not start to take off in western nations until the late 19th century.

What we tend forget about changing cultural beliefs is that changes are not always positive. In fact, cultural change tends to follow a cyclical process. Given current trends it appears that the United States and many other western nations are experiencing a decline moral standards. Thus, our ethos often gives credibility to the wrong people.

The Book of Judges in the Old Testament illustrates the cyclical rise and fall of moral standards.  This book takes up the history of Israel following the death of Joshua (see the end of the Book of Joshua).  Instead of continuing the conquest of the Promised Land and driving out the Canaanites and their vile gods as God directed, the Israelites turned away from the Lord. That included taking up the gods of their enemies, the Canaanites. That got the Israelites into big trouble. That is, they became so corrupt God turned His face from them and allowed their enemies to conquer them. Even after they cried out for mercy and God raised up judges to bring them back to Him, after each judge died they soon forgot their lesson, turned away from God, and turned back to the corrupt gods of the Canaanites.

The last part of Judges (chapters 19-21) is the low point in the book. It describes the near extermination of Tribe of Benjamin by the other eleven tribes. The moral state of the Tribe of Benjamin had apparently reached the nadir once achieved by the cities Sodom and Gomorrah. Hence, the other eleven tribes felt compelled to do something. Unfortunately, those tribes had drifted from God too. So they did an extremely poor job of consulting with God. Hence the book ends with this verse.

Judges 21:25 New King James Version (NKJV)

25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Some have taken Judges 21:25 to mean that Israel needed a king. However, 1 Samuel 8 makes it clear God disapproved when Israel insisted upon having a king. What the verse is observing is that everyone just did what they thought right. They did not obey either a king or God.

What happens when we discard God and just do what is right in our own eyes? What happens when God is dead to us? For those interested in extra credit, Ravi Zacharias has a couple of sermons that explain.


logos: the rational principle that governs and develops the universe.

We are steadily moving toward what some would call a postchristian society.

A postchristian world is one in which Christianity is no longer the dominant civil religion, but that has gradually assumed values, culture, and worldviews that are not necessarily Christian (and further may not necessarily reflect any world religion’s standpoint, or may represent a combination of either several religions or none). Post-Christian tends to refer to the loss of Christianity’s monopoly, if not its followers, in historically Christian societies. Postchristian societies can be found across the global North – for example, though the 2005 Eurobarameter survey indicated that the majority of Europeans hold some form of belief in a higher power, fewer point explicitly to the Christian God. (from here)

Note the irony. Many say that America and the nations of Western Europe never were Christian nations. Yet by definition the term postchristian assumes that they were. Thus, by using the term postchristian, many of very people who once claimed we never were a Christian nation now brag we are no longer a Christian nation.

What is happening? Are we a postchristian nation? Are we guilty of the same sin the people of Israel once committed? Well, our sin is similar. Whereas the people of Israel neglected to teach their children about Yahweh and/or adopted the gods of the Canaanites, we let our government provide our children a secular education, one that is becoming more and more devoid of anything except material values. So now instead of celebrating Christmas and Easter, the U.S. Department of Education wants children to celebrate Character Day.

Therefore, we now judge a successful primary and secondary education as admission into a good college. And what do we expect from a good college?

“No idea has had more influence on education policy than the notion that colleges teach their students specific, marketable skills, which they can use to get a good job,” writes John Cassidy in The New Yorker, examining the current college “calculus,” or strategy, of higher education. A college education now offers better job prospects, a good investment for future earnings, but a college education was once understood to include a broad education in the liberal arts and sciences. Employers would be assured that the prospective employee had achieved a certain level of “cognitive competence.” (from here)

Our society once educated children to prepare them for life — to think so that they would know how to live an honorable life. Now we prepare children for a job. If we are lucky, some employer will not interchange our child with a sophisticated robot.

What does it mean to prepare a child for life? A large part of it is learning the difference between right and wrong. In FOR THOSE WHO EXALT THEMSELVES WILL BE HUMBLED, I quote a portion of The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith. Smith explained how we form a healthy conscience. We do it by observing the reactions of others to our words and deeds.

An appropriate education helps children form healthy consciences. To help their charges form good consciences, good teachers make it their object to provide the correct reactions (or responses) to the words and deeds of their students. When their students do well, good teachers react with approval.  When their students do wrong, good teachers react with the disapproval of someone who knows and cares.

Parents, not politicians, know how to choose good teachers.

Think again about that definition of logos: the rational principle that governs and develops the universe. If we believe God exists, then He is the rational principle. What we think reasonable depends upon what we believe about God. Would He approve? If we do not believe God exists or we give God no consideration, then what we think reasonable is whatever seems right in our own eyes.


Pathos: the quality or power in an actual life experience or in literature, music, speech, or other forms of expression, of evoking a feeling of pity, or of sympathetic and kindly sorrow or compassion.

I got this quote from one of those to audio links produced by Ravi Zacharias.

What breaks our heart and makes us laugh tells God who we are.

Imagine you are watching a James Bond film. You look at the actress. What a hot body! You see Bond eyeing her. The film progresses. Soon Bond has that hot body in bed with him, and both Bond and the hot body are laughing. Do you laugh or weep?

What makes us laugh depends upon what we believe and what we care about. What is our attitude towards casual sex? That determines whether we consider this Bond film with pleasure or disgust.

Is sex merely entertainment, or is there something sacred about it? Would you want your spouse to engage in casual sex? How about your teenage child? Yet Hollywood and the rest of the mass entertainment sells casual sex — pornography too — as wholesome entertainment. Not too long ago, that would not have been allowed, but Hollywood has convinced us that the vulgar is entertainment.  What once we regarded sacred is worthless, just an obstacle to pleasure.

Unfortunately, the moral degradation of our society does not involve just sex or Hollywood. Much of what appeals today would have disgusted people a mere hundred ago. Today we have a vast welfare state, for example, that would shock earlier generations. If they were here today, many would see the waste, point out that charity is a personal responsibility, argue that handouts just discourage people from working and trying to improve themselves, and then they would immediately set out to dismantle the whole damned thing.

On the other hand, even when unconstitutional and unneeded portions of the Federal Government shut down we weep. Some civil servant isn’t being paid! He doesn’t have any work! Just the same, we know this guy is going to get his paycheck anyway, just late and for doing nothing.

The Need For A Common Understanding

Here we have the conclusion of this post.

To have a “Law of the Land,” we must have a common understanding. The vast majority of people must be able to agree upon what the “Law of the Land” exists to do. Unfortunately, no longer share a common Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. Once the people of our nation could have pointed to the Declaration of Independence. Once they agreed the ideas in that document unite us, but that no longer seems to be the case. Therefore, instead of uniting us, what we call the “Law of the Land” now divides us.

What remains in this series?

  • Why Must We Choose A New Leadership?

5 thoughts on “WHAT IS THE LAW OF THE LAND? — PART 3

  1. It is my understanding, from years of study, research, and teaching, the phrase “the law of the land” connotes a few meanings. First possible meaning, as used in the Magna Carta (which, by the way, I consider one of the greatest documents ever, though it favored the nobility, in particular, the baron), it meant the established law of the kingdom or the common law (i.e., customs and usages or unwritten law), as opposed to the Roman law (also known as civil law), which was about being introduced in the kingdom during that period. Second possible meaning, general public laws binding on all members of society, as opposed to private law (i.e., between citizen and citizen). Third possible meaning, in these United States, due process of law afforded by the constitution (see Amendment V), or by the common law adopted by the constitution (see Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 1; Amendment VII), or by statutes passed by the legislature in pursuance of the constitution (see Art. VI, Cl. 2).

  2. Really well said, Tom. I think rhetoric, pathos especially, has really been exploited by our assorted political groups and used to manipulate people and public opinion. These are the things I usually refer to as hyperbole, hysteria, but it is the same idea. I suspect much of the population is reaching outrage fatigue, pathos fatigue. Perhaps this is a good thing, perhaps we won’t be so easily played, so vulnerable to emotional manipulation, and we’ll all start applying more common sense when we choose our leadership.

    1. Thank you for a kind and thoughtful comment.

      Rhetoric can be abused, of course. I have to study Aristotle’s work more, but I think he believed rhetoric, especially as he taught about the subject, does more good than harm. If we take the time to understand how we are persuaded or manipulated, we can defend ourselves more easily.

      Note again the way I approached the subject in the post. I did not attack rhetoric. I did my best to explain how rhetoric works.

      What did I point to as the problem? We do not give enough credibility to God and His Word. That is one reason I like your blog. You do a very good job of presenting God and His Word to those who have yet to seriously consider it.

      And what about leadership? Well, that’s the next post.

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