Unintentional Pathos?

Can pathos be unintentional? Is it possible for someone to use rhetoric by appealing to one’s emotions without intending to do so? When trying to think of an example of pathos, a specific situation came to mind. Part of me says it is pathos, but another part says that it can’t be, because the persuader didn’t even know it was happening. Let me explain.

My story involves a friend and her roommate. Let’s call my friend Jane and her roommate Rachel. I’ll lay out the story and then come back to the pathos part.

So Jane was sick all last week. She had a stuffy nose, sore throat, and a headache. She didn’t make it to practice and didn’t even want to go to class. As she started to get better, Rachel started to get sick. Considering the two of them hang out a lot, it was a shared understanding that Jane got her roommate sick. Jane felt terrible about this, and still feels guilty about it, even though her roommate is starting to feel better. When Rachel was sick, however, she asked Jane to go to the Cobra Starship concert with her. Knowing it would mean she’d have to miss practice again, and not wanting to go, Jane still felt too guilty about getting Rachel sick that she couldn’t bring herself to say no. Jane went with Rachel to the concert.

So… is that pathos?

Pathos is a type of rhetoric that evokes emotion in the audience. Guilt is an emotion. Rachel evoked guilt from Jane. Rhetoric is persuasion. Rachel persuaded Jane to go to the concert. Emotion (guilt) + persuasion (Jane went to the concert) = pathos. Does it not?

So even though we think of pathos as an intentional thing, or something we use to bolster our arguments and persuade our audiences, does it have to be?

Can pathos be unintentional too?

What do you think?

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1 Response to Unintentional Pathos?

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