How does Ronald Reagan's Challenger Speech use ethos, pathos, and logos in his speech to persuade the audience?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Ronald Reagan’s response was heart-felt and effective because he used pathos to appeal to emotion, logos to appeal to logic, and ethos to appeal to authority.

The three Greek words ethos, pathos, and logos are often used to refer to persuasive appeals used by public speakers and others trying to convince.  In responding to a disaster like the Challenger Explosion, it is a president’s job to help the country heal.  Reagan’s speech is carefully designed to do just that by appealing to our emotions.

Pathos, the appeal to emotion, seems like the most obvious in a tragedy.  However, everyone is already sad.  Everyone feels the depths of emotion. So pathos can actually be the hardest to handle, because rather than bringing up emotions you are trying to harness them.  You are trying to make sense, and help other people make sense, of how they feel.

But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, "give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.

With this line, Reagan both acknowledges the trauma and celebrates the sacrifice.  He carefully reminds the listener that the astronauts were brave and special, without belaboring the point.

Logos is a reference to logic, or the facts of a situation.  Sometimes in a period of great pain, it is hard to remember what really is happening.  In this case, Reagan has the unfortunate responsibility of having to remind people that these astronauts were doing their job, and while this does not diminish their sacrifice, it acknowledges that they were prepared to make it.

We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the member of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

Finally, ethos is used in an interesting way here.  Ethos usually refers to mentioning experts or important people you can use to convince people of things.  In this case, Reagan wants to convince the public that it is not over, and there will still be people going into space, despite the tragedy.

We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.

This is in some ways the most important message of all.  We are not beaten by this.  We are saddened, but there are still people willing to put their lives on the line for what they consider an important cause.

This speech is important to our history not just because it was a personal tragedy for every American, but because it demonstrates our resolve.  As Americans, we do not give up in hard times.  We push on, and strong leaders help us do so.