Given that Public Forum heavily emphasizes persuasion, it makes sense to discuss some classical viewpoints on how audiences are persuaded. The Greek philosopher Aristotle is famous for his three rhetorical modes of persuasion--ethos, logos, and pathos. These terms may have been heard before. If not, do not worry. Time will be spent defining and describing each one, and then we will discuss how to apply them to Public Forum. This article will deal with pathos.

What Is Pathos?

From an Aristotelian point of view of, pathos is defined as follows:

In rhetoric, pathos is an appeal by the speaker made on the basis of emotions and feelings. It is used to elicit a sympathetic response from the audience and relies upon shared values held by both the speaker and the audience.

Pathos in debate consists of two different (but related) elements: speaking style and argument content. Effective users of pathos will incorporate both into their speeches.

We must consider the idea of a shared value before we can proceed further. At its core, a shared value is some belief that the speaker promotes which the audience grants as true. There are many, many different types of shared values. Some easy examples:

- Freedom and equality ought to be maximized for all people

- Poverty should be combated by government programs

- Nuclear weapons should be abolished

- The U.S. is a Christian nation

“But wait, I don’t share some of those values!” Well, obviously. We should not confuse shared values with universal values. The idea of a universal value is a fiction--only a certain subset of people will ever share a particular value. Even seemingly-benign claims like “death is bad” will have their detractors. I actually know some people who think that first example about freedom and equality is horribly, horribly wrong. And as we will see, it is this inherent unpredictability that makes the use of pathos complicated in debate.

How to Apply Pathos to Public Forum

Recall, there are two different ways to utilize pathos. The first of these is speaking style. How does a speaker use the tone of their voice and hand expressions to elicit emotional responses? The answer is that they do not. Physical manifestations of pathos MUST accompany an appropriate trail of argumentation to work properly. A person can read ingredients out of a cookbook in the most awe-inspiring voice the world has ever heard, and it will have absolutely no effect on the audience. There MUST be some material for the audience to connect to emotionally. What material should be used?

The answer is shared values. The problem, as mentioned, is that community judges are not an open book. Debaters have no way of knowing what values they might share with judges, and competitors certainly cannot ask a judge before the round. Even with a style of presentation that is emotionally consistent with they material, it is not going to elicit the response being looked for if they material does not jive with the judge.

Where does that leave competitors? Basically, they must rely on their common sense when resorting to pathos. Pathos is very powerful when it works, but counterproductive when it flops. Therefore, pick safe bets when using pathos. Never make assumptions--EVER. Just because someone is older and lives in Kansas does not mean they have conservative values. Or just because someone is college age and lives in Vermont does not mean they are more open-minded. Stay far, far away from political issues when using pathos. Bring up abortion and a debater has a 50% chance of getting thought less off, and those are not good odds when looking to advance to elimination rounds.

So what issues are safe? Try very general points. What evokes emotion? Happiness, suffering, anger--where are these feelings (almost) universally consummated? Take the genocide in Darfur. That would probably be a safe emotional appeal. Describing the effects of poverty and economic distress is another good one. (And remember, while citizens differ on how these problems should be solved, they will always agree that they are problems to be dealt with.) There are many, many ways in which to safely use pathos, especially at the impact level of argumentation.

Finally, one last note about pathos. The way a debater composes him/herself is typically reflection of pathos. If a debater is aggravating and irritating during crossfire, or at any other time, that will be interpreted poorly by the judge. Conversely, if a competitor can be polite, courteous, and respectful while remaining competitive, the judge will react positively.