The use of ethos is called an “ethical appeal.” Note that this is very different from our usual understanding of the word “ethical.” “Ethos” is used to describe the audience’s perception of the rhetor’s credibility or authority. The audience asks themselves, “What does this person know about this topic?” and “Why should I trust this person?” There are two kinds of ethos:
- extrinsic (the character, expertise, education, and experience of the rhetor), and
- instrinsic (how the rhetor writes or speaks).
Ethos is frequently translated as some variation of “credibility or trustworthiness,” but it originally referred to the elements of a speech that reflected on the particular character of the speaker or the speech’s author. Today, many people may discuss ethos qualities of a text to refer to how well authors portray themselves. But ethos more closely refers to an author’s perspective more generally. In this resource, ethos means “author.”