Invented Ethos (Rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"The ethical appeal or credibility of the speaker is affected not only by what is said but by the speaker's appearance, bodily movements, and vocal expressions" (A.T. Rottenberg and D.H. Winchell, Elements of Argument, 2012). (Image of Dr. Martin Luther King reprinted by permission of Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images)


In classical rhetoric, invented ethos is a type of proof that relies on the qualities of a speaker's character as conveyed by his or her discourse

In contrast to situated ethos (which is based on the rhetor's reputation in the community), invented ethos is projected by the rhetor in the context and delivery of the speech itself.

"According to Aristotle," say Crowley and Hawhee, "rhetors can invent a character suitable to an occasion—this is invented ethos" (Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, 2004).

Examples and Observations

"The ethos of rhetors is established by the words they use and the roles they assume in their meanings and varied interactions."

(Harold Barrett, Rhetoric and Civility. SUNY Press, 1991) 

Situated Ethos and Invented Ethos

"Ethos is concerned with character. It has two aspects. The first concerns the esteem in which the speaker or writer is held. We might see this as his/her 'situated' ethos. The second is about what a speaker/writer actually does linguistically in his/her texts to ingratiate him/herself with the audience. This second aspect has been referred to as 'invented' ethos. Situated ethos and invented ethos are not separate; rather, they operate on a cline. For example, the more effective your invented ethos is, the stronger your situated ethos might become in the long run, and vice versa."

(Michael Burke, "Rhetoric and Poetics: The Classical Heritage of Stylistics." The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics, ed.

by Michael Burke. Routledge, 2014)

The Critic's Ethos: Situated and Invented

"The two considerations here are situated ethos and invented ethos respectively. When it comes to aesthetic criticism . . ., situated ethos is when a successful novelist in his own right is asked his opinion about another novel.

His opinion is respected because of who he is known to be—situated ethos. But the critic has to set up shop by himself and pronounce (for example) on a painting when he himself does not know how to paint. He does this by means of some form of invented ethos; that is, he has to come up with various rhetorical devices for getting people to listen. If he is successful at this over time, then he acquires a reputation as a critic and has therefore grown into situated ethos."

(Douglas Wilson, Writers to Read. Crossway, 2015)

Aristotle on Ethos

"[There is persuasion] through character whenever the speech is spoken in such a way as to make the speaker worthy of credence; for we believe fair-minded people to greater extent and more quickly [than we do others] on all subjects in general and completely so in cases where there is not exact knowledge but room for doubt. And this should result from the speech, not from a previous opinion that the speaker is a certain kind of person."

(Aristotle, Rhetoric)

- "Treated as an aspect of rhetoric, Aristotelian [invented] ethos presumes that human nature is knowable, reducible to a range of types, and manipulable by discourse."

(James S. Baumlin, "Ethos," The Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, ed.

by Thomas O. Sloane. Oxford University Press, 2001)

- "Today we may feel uncomfortable with the notion that rhetorical character can be constructed, since we tend to think of character, or personality, as fairly stable. We generally assume as well that character is shaped by an individual's experiences. The ancient Greeks, in contrast, thought that character was constructed not by what happened to people but by the moral practices in which they habitually engaged. An ethos was not finally given by nature, but was developed by habit."

(Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, 3rd ed. Pearson, 2004)

Cicero on Invented Ethos

"So much is done by good taste and style in speaking that the speech seems to depict the speaker's character. For by means of particular types of thought and diction, and the employment besides of a delivery that is unruffled and eloquent of good nature, the speakers are made to appear upright, well-bred, and virtuous men."

(Cicero, De Oratore)

Also See

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Invented Ethos (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Mar. 6, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, March 6). Invented Ethos (Rhetoric). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Invented Ethos (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 19, 2018).