situated ethos (rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Richard Nixon -situated ethos
"Some individuals have more than one reputation," notes Gary Alan Fine. "Richard Nixon is a profound example. Nixon's reputation, more than is true for most presidents, is a function of the party affiliation of the judge. Republicans praise Nixon far more than Democrats do" (Difficult Reputations, 2001). (David Fenton/Getty Images)


In classical rhetoric, situated ethos is a type of proof that relies primarily on a speaker's reputation within his or her community. Also called prior or acquired ethos.

In contrast to invented ethos (which is projected by the rhetor during the course of the speech itself), situated ethos is based on the rhetor's public image, social status, and perceived moral character.

"An unfavorable [situated] ethos will hamper the effectiveness of a speaker," notes James Andrews, "whereas a favorable ethos may well be the single most potent force in promoting successful persuasion" (A Choice of Worlds).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


Examples and Observations

  • "Situated ethos is a function of a speaker's reputation or standing in a specific community or context. For example, a physician will have a certain credibility not only in a professional setting, such as a hospital, but also in the community at large because of the social standing of medical doctors."
    (Robert P. Yagelski, Writing: Ten Core Concepts. Cengage, 2015)

  • "Situated ethos can be enhanced over time by building up a reputation that is tied to a particular discourse community; as Halloran (1982) explained its use in the classical tradition, 'to have ethos is to manifest the virtues most valued by the culture to and for which one speaks' (p. 60)."
    (Wendi Sierra and Doug Eyman, "I Rolled the Dice With Trade Chat and This Is What I Got." Online Credibility and Digital Ethos, ed. by Moe Folk and Shawn Apostel. IGI Global, 2013)

  • Richard Nixon's Depreciated Ethos
    - "For a public figure like [Richard] Nixon, the task of the artful persuader is not to contradict the impressions people already have of him but to supplement these impressions with other, favorable ones."
    (Michael S. Kochin, Five Chapters on Rhetoric: Character, Action, Things, Nothing, and Art. Penn State Press, 2009)  

    - "In rhetorical interaction, no particular is more consequential than ethos. Depreciated ethos, for instance, can be disastrous. A prompt and forthright response by Richard Nixon to facts of the Watergate incident might have saved his presidency. His evasions and other defensive acts only weakened his position. . . . Behavior that is perceptively evasive, uncaring, self-abasing, spiteful, envious, abusive, and tyrannical, etc, contributes to tarnished credibility; with mature audiences, it returns only rhetorical loss. "
    (Harold Barrett, Rhetoric and Civility: Human Development, Narcissism, and the Good Audience. State University of New York Press, 1991)

  • Situated Ethos in Roman Rhetoric
    - "Aristotle's conception of an [invented] ethos portrayed only through the medium of a speech was, for the Roman orator, neither acceptable nor adequate. [The Romans believed that character was] bestowed or inherited by nature, [and that] in most cases character remains constant from generation to generation of the same family."
    (James M. May, Trials of Character: The Eloquence of Ciceronian Ethos, 1988)

    - "According to Quintilian, Roman rhetoricians who relied on Greek rhetorical theory sometimes confused ethos with pathos--appeals to the emotions--because there was no satisfactory term for ethos in Latin. Cicero occasionally used the Latin term persona), and Quintilian simply borrowed the Greek term. This lack of a technical term is not surprising, because the requirement of having a respectable character was built into the very fabric of Roman oratory. Early Roman society was governed by means of family authority, and so a person's lineage had everything to do with what sort of ethos he could command when he took part in public affairs. The older and more respected the family, the more discursive authority its members enjoyed."
    (Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, 3rd edition, Pearson, 2004)
  • Kenneth Burke on Ethos and Identification
    "You persuade a man only insofar as you can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his. Persuasion by flattery is but a special case of persuasion in general. But flattery can safely serve as our paradigm if we systematically widen its meaning, to see behind it the conditions of identification or consubstantiality in general."
    (Kenneth Burke, The Rhetoric of Motives, 1950)