In 1976, Dr. Myron L. Fox gave lectures to psychologists and psychiatrists on the application of game theory in the education of doctors. As a speaker, he was charismatic. He spoke loudly and gestured. No one in the audience paid attention to the fact that he was not a scientist but an actor. For recipients, it was more important that Dr. Fox says, not what he says. It has been proved in this way that the more expressive the statement, the more credible the speaker and the more inclined to believe him. The effect of Dr. Fox means that the character of such a speaker therefore plays a key role in communication.
Interest in the art of argumentation dates back to antiquity when Aristotle defined the means of persuasion: (1) ethos which is the use the character of the speaker to achieve goals of persuasion; (2) logos which is the employment of facts and arguments to influence others; and (3) pathos which is the attempt to arouse specific emotions in the audience to convince them. The analysis of argumentation is a path to getting to know a human and their behaviour which is dependant on others.
We take this approach as a point of departure and apply linguistic and computational methods in order to arrive at an empirically-grounded, theoretically-informed and application-driven formal model of ethos in various domains such as parliamentary debates, cultural heritage, deliberative democracy and social media.
The power of authority
The strength of argument
Contemporary theory of argumentation drew the attention of communication researchers to the role of arguments referring to ethos. It was noticed that important for the development of argument theory is not only the issue of building one’s own character of the speaker, but also supporting someone’s position using ethos and attacks on the ethos.
Douglas Walton was one of the first to systematically examine arguments referring to the character of the speaker and conduct research on “ethical arguments.” He dealt with, among others arguments from expert opinions, arguments from authority and ad hominem attacks, i.e. those where the interlocutor refers to opinions recognized by the opponent, drawing arguments supporting his thesis from them.
Contemporary ethos research is mainly undertaken in the theory of rhetoric, argumentation theory, informal logic and the theory of critical thinking. These studies focus on answering the question: How does ethos, the character of the speaker, determine successful argument, speech communication and persuasion? The aforementioned studies by Douglas Walton are a representative example of this direction in science. Although there is little research into the ethos taken out of the rhetoric context as such, issues of rhetoric and argumentation strategies continue to interest scientists around the world, including us.
As a New Ethos Lab research team, we analyze the language of public debates through the prism of the character of the speakers, i.e. the ethos, based on the actual behavior of people, automatically processing the natural language they use, and then analyzing the entire discussions, not just their fragments. The insight gained in this way into large data resources allows us to formulate a theory that allows us to designate a new area of research and new research methods in the philosophy of argumentation – the new ethos.