Business by Aristotle?

Roman copy in marble of a Greek bronze bust of Aristotle by Lysippus, c. 330 BCE.

Roman copy in marble of a Greek bronze bust of Aristotle by Lysippus, c. 330 BCE.

by Bud Cornwell

The Greek philosopher Aristotle divided the means of persuasion, appeals, into three categories–Ethos, Pathos, Logos.

Book I – Chapter 2 in “Aristotle’s Rhetoric”

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and scientist born in the Macedonian city of Stagirus, in 384 BCE. Aristotle’s “ingredients for persuasion” – otherwise known as “appeals” – are known by the names of ethos, pathos, and logos. They are all means of persuading others to take a particular point of view.

Ethos, pathos and logos each have a different meaning:

• Ethos is an appeal to ethics, and it is a means of convincing someone of the character or credibility of the persuader.

• Pathos is an appeal to emotion, and is a way of convincing an audience of an argument by creating an emotional response.

• Logos is an appeal to logic, and is a way of persuading an audience by reason.

Aristotle’s intent does not apply this philosophy to business. However a business is like human beings, a living, breathing entity capable of having feelings and being felt by customers.

A well skilled business manager understands the relationship of business operations to customer satisfaction. To have a complete sense of this relationship, as in a human relationship, the manager must know the feel of the business and the reaction to input from the customers.

Ethos – The characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.

Spending 20 years active duty in the Marine Corps I learned the true meaning of Ethos as it relates to an organization. The Marine’s are warriors, instilled with the since of duty to their fellow members, unit and country. The same can be said of a business organization to its customers. Business ethos of a company is its core set of values or operating principles that are used to set the tone for the company’s overall operations.

Many artists have created beautiful paintings of women on canvas, Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Birth of Venus, Whistler’s Mother, and The Mona Lisa. Each painting portrays the character of the artist ethos, however none are more memorable than “The Mona Lisa”. If you asked someone to close their eyes and you mention Leonardo da Vinci, instantaneously a picture of “The Mona Lisa” will enter their mind. Did you know he also painted another very famous portrait in the top 7 of all paintings, “The Last Supper”?

A business needs to develop a sense of character (ethos) that is different from the other “paintings” in which customers will always relate as amazing and memorable when they too close their eyes.

Appeals to Ethos from “Your Dictionary”:

• “My three decades of experience in public service, my tireless commitment to the people of this community, and my willingness to reach across the aisle and cooperate with the opposition, make me the ideal candidate for your mayor.”
• “The veterinarian says that an Australian shepherd will be the perfect match for our active lifestyle.”
• “If his years as a Marine taught him anything, it’s that caution is the best policy in this sort of situation.”
• “You know me – I’ve taught Sunday School at your church for years, babysat your children, and served as a playground director for many summers.”

Pathos – A communication technique used most often in rhetoric and in literature, film and other narrative art.

Pathos is a strange word to rap your mind around. When you start dealing with the emotions of an organization, you can become confused or unsure of exactly what the organization has to offer you. However, once you become familiar with the style of communications from the business, it grows on you and becomes your choice place to be and in some cases additive.

There are many business that sale the same types of products. In the case of home improvement, I choose one particular store as my additive place to be for my projects. Every time I checkout at the counter I feel obligated to tell the story of just how addicted I am.

A fellow employee and I carpooled one day as my vehicle was in the shop. Conversation about our weekend projects took up most of our time in the vehicle. As we approached the freeway exit, destined for our neighborhood, my friend said “I need to stop by this home improvement store for a moment.” I said, “I don’t think so!” With a very puzzle and confused look on his face he said, “ What do you mean. You don’t think so?” I replied with complete confidence, “ I do not shop at that store, nor do I want to go into the parking lot. I only shop at my favorite store and refuse to purchase anywhere else.” My friend asked, “What do you do when this store has items on sale?” With great pride I said, “Everything in my store is on sale all the time, for I’m a veteran and I always get a discount. I asked my friend to take me home before he stop to shop at the store, reluctantly he agreed.

A business that creates a sense of emotional pride in relationship to a customer will always bring a feeling of belonging and respect to that customer just by instilled pathos into the employees.

Appeals to Pathos “Your Dictionary”:

• “There’s no price that can be placed on peace of mind. Our advanced security systems will protect the well-being of your family so that you can sleep soundly at night.”
• “Where would we be without this tradition? Ever since our forefathers landed at Plymouth Rock, we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving without fail, making more than cherished recipes. We’ve made memories.”

Logos – Originally a word meaning “a ground”, “a plea”, “an opinion”, “an expectation”, “word”, “speech”, “account”, “to reason”

When a Marine is confused about a situation or why we are doing a specific mission or action, leaders often reply “Our is not to reason why, ours is to do or die.”

Although this is a manipulated version of the phrase (Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die) from the great poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, it has become an ingrained logos within a military unit.

The art of reasoning is a key virtue instilled into leaders of men in the military. Reasoning about the situation and being able to relay the importance to our Marines is upmost to accomplishment of a mission. Moreover, the understanding that the leader has completed the necessary steps to develop the expectations warms the hearts and souls of Marines allowing them to focus on the mission and not why they are doing it.

A business must always display the confidence of reason within the products they sale or services they provide. The logos you provide to the customer encourages them to fully trust your orgsnization and leave them only thinking about the enjoyment of the product they receive from your company.

Appeals to Logos “Your Dictionary”:

• “It’s a matter of common sense that people deserve to be treated equally. The Constitution calls it ‘self-evident.’ Why, then, should I have been denied a seat because of my disability?”
• “More than one hundred peer-reviewed studies have been conducted over the past decade, and none of them suggests that this is an effective treatment for hair loss.”
• “He has a track record of success with this company, culminating in some of our most acclaimed architecture to date and earning us Firm of the Year nine times in a row.”

You can spend hours a day reading about the character of employees in a business, hiring people with great character, purchasing training programs that will build employee character, and developing leaders with awesome qualities. However, what I believe is most important before you start looking at personnel character in your business is to define your corporate character.

Implement positive Ethos, Pathos, and Logos into your corporation will set it apart from the competitors and keep it on top of the customers list as the place to be.


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