Logos is a way of arguing calmly and carefully, using reason alone and not relying on the emotions. Logos (LOH-gohs) is a Greek word meaning “reason” or “rationality.” It comes from the philosopher Aristotle, who emphasized the difference between logos and pathos, or emotion. We might say that logos comes from the mind, while pathos comes from the heart.
II. Examples of Logos
Math is a subject entirely made up of logos. Emotions and personal opinions are not important – all that matters is figuring out the logical truth. This is particularly easy to see in geometry, where students are often given the task of writing logical “proofs.” When written well, these proofs are excellent examples of logs.
“In 2010, as [Obama’s] recovery program kicked in, the job losses stopped and things began to turn around. The recovery act saved or created millions of jobs and cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people. And, in the last 29 months, our economy has produced about 4 1/2 million private sector jobs.” (Bill Clinton, 2012)
Political debate should be a good place to look for logos, but unfortunately our modern politicians often fail at it. There are a few good examples, though: love him or hate him, Bill Clinton is remarkably good at using logos in his speeches, especially in his 2012 DNC speech. Notice how the former president avoids excessive emotion and uses evidence to back up his praise of President Obama’s economic policy. This doesn’t necessarily imply that Clinton is correct on the policy issues – that’s up to you to decide – but he is certainly using logos to make his point.
III. The Importance of Logos
Logos is all about the mind. It’s all about rationally persuading people that your view is correct. Because we value intelligence and reason, we want these things to be the basis for people’s views and opinions; that’s why logos is so important.
However, it’s also important not to use logos in isolation. If you’ve ever tried to read a professional work of analytic philosophy, you know how dry it can be! That’s because analytic philosophy is an attempt to speak through pure logic. Some emotional element is important if you want your work to be interesting and fun to read. Still, it’s best to make sure that the argument itself is based on logos, even if you occasionally use emotional flourishes your writing.
IV. How to Write Logos
It’s important to learn how to use logos in your writing, but it’s a lifelong process! No one is perfect at it, even professional scholars and philosophers. But everything starts with one crucial step:
- Give reasons! Whenever you make a logical statement, you have to back it up with evidence.
- Avoid getting emotional. When you write a paper, you’re probably tempted to write about subjects you feel passionate about. But this isn’t always the best idea! If you’re too passionate about the subject, you won’t be able to look past your own emotional perspectives, and that will make your paper less logical.
- Think about counter-arguments. If you can master this skill, you’ll be an expert at writing persuasive essays. Think carefully about what someone else might say against your argument. What is the strongest possible case you can make against yourself? If you can come up with good counter-arguments and respond to them logically, your argument will be irresistible.
V. When to Use Logos
Logos is the main tool for any formal essay. Academic writing is based on logical, unemotional analysis, and in order to write a good paper you need to spend the majority of your time thinking about logos. As we saw in section 3, there’s also a place for emotional writing in formal essays; but it shouldn’t be the main focus! Logos is the driving force of a formal argument.
In creative writing, you generally don’t need to use logos much. Creative writing is much more based on your intuitions and instincts, and you don’t need to analyze your ideas logically in most cases. However, you may want to have a character use logos. In stories, you’ll often see characters use logical reasoning in their dialogue – it’s a way of showing that the character is rational, intelligent, and analytical.
You can also use bad logos to generate humor! As we’ll see in section 8, it can sometimes be pretty funny when a character thinks he’s being logical, but is actually failing miserably.
VI. Examples of Logos in Philosophy and Literature
In the modern world, we sometimes assume that logos (reason) is the opposite of faith (religion). However, for medieval Christians like Thomas Aquinas, faith and reason were twin sisters, both necessary in the quest to come closer to God. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas used several logical arguments to prove the existence of God (though his version of God was extremely different from what most modern Christians believe in).
“Mastering his emotion, he half calmly rose, and as he quitted the cabin, paused for an instant and said: “Thou hast outraged, not insulted me, sir; but for that I ask thee not to beware of Starbuck; thou wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.’”
Starbuck in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is depicted as extremely honorable, noble, and reasonable – the Perfect Man according to the customs of Melville’s time. In contrast to Starbuck is the half-crazed Captain Ahab. In this scene, Starbuck is calmly delivering an argument to Ahab, trying to convince him that he is becoming to inwardly focused and obsessed with his hunt for the whale. Starbuck’s calm logic is especially impressive in this scene when you realize that Ahab is pointing a loaded gun at Starbuck’s face!
Philosophy, like math, is heavily dependent on logos, though it’s used for a very different purpose. Philosophers use logos to figure out answers to questions like: “what is consciousness?” and “what is good/evil?” Philosophy is also a good example of why pure logos is so hard to read! Many philosophers strive to remove the emotional element (pathos) from their work, which can make the writing extremely dry and dull on the surface.
VII. Examples of Logos in Media and Popular Culture
In Star Trek, the Vulcans are supposed to be without emotion and entirely rational. This is usually demonstrated by Spock and his logical arguments. However, this never entirely works out – after all, the show’s writers were human and human beings are naturally emotional! So it’s impossible to write a character who is purely logical, and that’s why the Vulcans on Star Trek sometimes failed in their logos, here’s an excerpt of a logical debate between Spock and Khan.
“So…if she weighs the same as a duck…she’s made of wood! And therefore….a witch!!” (Sir Bedevere, Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
In Monty Python’s classic comedy The Holy Grail, Sir Bedevere is an amateur philosopher who wants to rule his peasants through logos. At one point, he leads the peasants through a long, tangled argument that ultimately “proves” that ducks are made of wood, and that if a woman weighs the same as a duck then she must be a witch. Every step in the argument is completely absurd, but Bedevere and his peasants are entirely convinced by it.
“Fact: Time Warner Cable…saves you what could be hundreds of dollars. Fact: you can spend those hundreds of dollars on like a mountain of dog food. Fact: puppies love dog food. Therefore, DirecTV hates puppies. Who hates puppies?”
The same technique (using bad logos for comedy) can be seen in advertisements. An ad from Time Warner Cable, for example, uses a series of bad arguments to “prove” that satellite TV companies hate puppies. Of course, the logos is obviously not working here. The ad actually works by making you laugh, which in turn makes you remember the product.