When William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament, converted to Christianity, he began to earnestly seek to reform the evils he found within himself and the world around him. One of the glaring moral issues of the day was slavery, and after reading up on the subject and meeting with anti-slavery activists, Wilberforce became convinced that God was calling him to be an abolitionist. Wilberforce decided to concentrate on ending the slave trade rather than slavery itself, reasoning that the abolition of one would logically lead to the demise of the other. On May 12, 1789, Wilberforce made his first speech on the abolition of the slave trade before the House of Commons. He passionately made his case for why the trade was reprehensible and needed to cease. Wilberforce introduced a bill to abolish the trade, but it failed, a result he would become quite familiar with in the ensuing years. Yet Wilberforce never gave up, reintroducing the bill year after year, and the Slave Trade Act was finally passed in 1807.
The above excerpt from F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the more subtler examples of ethos. This line is the opening of his novel The Great Gatsby , and at first it might seem not particularly consequential. However, this is a very important way for the narrator Nick Carraway to establish credibility with the audience. In this tale of wealth and class, it’s important to understand Nick’s background and know that he both has had some advantages, but is aware of them. This is a necessary step for the reading audience to be on Nick’s side as he narrates the novel.
A big component of informal logic are fallacies. A “fallacy is a pattern of poor reasoning which appears to be (and in this sense mimics) a pattern of good reasoning.” There’s a whole slew of logical fallacies and chances are you’re familiar with a few of them: ad hominems , slippery slopes, red herrings. It’s important to be familiar with as many fallacies as possible so a) you don’t use them and thus lose credibility (ethos!) with your audience, and b) you don’t get sucked into arguments with scalawags who use them. We’ll cover fallacies a bit more in depth in a later post. Stay tuned!