Logos is the use of logic to create a persuasive argument in writing.
Using logos is not always an easy task, building a clear, and well-reasoned argument can take a long time and be quite intensive. But, a good outcome can define a piece of writing. It can elevate one’s written work and make it far more engaging for the reader. Logos is a good rhetorical element to consider when writing more broadly, but it is at its most effective when it’s applied well to individual passages. There are several examples of how it could be used to create well-reasoned arguments below.
Definition and Explanation of Logos
When using logos, the writer attempts to appeal to the reader’s logic. This, along with their idea of what’s rational and reasonable, makes logos interesting. Although logos can initially seem quite restrictive and academic, it can be found in literature and poetry in addition to argumentative/persuasive writing.
Logos was defined by Aristotle in his Rhetoric. There, he describes it as “reasoned discourse” related to public speaking. It was for Aristotle the most important of the three main modes of persuasion, the other two being ethos and pathos. He believed logos outranked the other two in importance due to the fact that any argument, no matter where it’s made, needs logic to work.
Examples of Logos
To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
In To Kill a Mocking Bird, Lee uses logos through her character of Atticus Finch. He argues on behalf of Tom Robinson, who he knows is innocent but the world is ready to condemn him as guilty for raping a white woman. Here is a bit of the text from that passage:
The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence to the effect that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place. It has relied instead upon the testimony of two witnesses whose evidence has not only been called into serious question on cross-examination, but has been flatly contradicted by the defendant.
Finch is attempting to demonstrate for the courtroom that there are no facts that point towards Tom as having committed this crime. He uses logic to appeal to the jury and try to convince them that the facts are quite different than they might’ve been led to believe.
Othello by William Shakespeare
In Shakespeare’s Othello, which follows the story of a Black general, Shakespeare includes a passage in which the villain of the novel, Iago, uses logos. He convinces Othello that the woman he loves, Desdemona, has cheated on him with Cassio. Iago’s crafting this argument purely out of spite but his use of logos makes it believable. Here are a few lines from that specific passage:
Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on …
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger,
But, oh, what damnèd minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts — suspects, yet soundly loves
While trying to ruin Othello, Iago also makes sure to keep himself on Othello’s good side. These lines are a good example of that as well. He tells Othello here not to give in to jealously while also making sure that very thing happens.
In 1984, Orwell spends several passages in the novel emphasizing how the government of Oceania created and enforced rules. They used logic, no matter how flawed, in order to convince everyone that their suffering was happening for a reason. Take the following quote from1984:
In the end, the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it.
In this passage, Orwell’s depicting how strong the Party’s logos could be. They could convince everyone of anything. Even something as fundamentally, logically wrong as “two and two made five.”
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice is another great example of how Shakespeare used logos in his plays. In this passage, Portia uses reason to try to argue that the opposing counsel is due to their “pound of flesh” but nowhere in the laws of Venice does it say they’re due blood.
Tarry a little; there is something else.
This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood;
The words expressly are ‘a pound of flesh:’
Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;
Why Do Writers Use Logos?
Writers use logos as one of the main three modes of persuasion. Without a well-reasoned argument at the heart of a piece of writing the audience may not believe its broader premise. It is enhanced further through the addition of ethos and pathos. The latter being an appeal to the audience’s emotions and the former an appeal based on the speaker’s authority. Depending on the type of writing one’s doing, it may be necessary to lean more on one of the three modes of persuasion than the others. Logos is quite important in the passage from To Kill a Mockingbird but other sections of the novel depend less-heavily on it.
- Reasonable argument
- Logical appeal
Related Literary Devices
- Bathos: a sudden, jolting change in the tone of a work. This could occur in a poem, play, story, or film.
- Imagery: the elements of a piece of literature that engage a reader’s senses. These are the important sights, sounds, feelings, and smells.
- Metaphor: used to describe an object, person, situation or action in a way that helps a reader understand it, without using “like” or “as”.
- Paraphrasing: to simplify it down to its most basic elements, clarifying along the way and choosing less complicated language.
- Play (Theatre): a form of writing for theatre. It is divided into acts and scenes.