4.03.2010

Ethos, Character, Authority



From R.W. Emerson's essay, "Character" (1844):
Character, --a reserved force which acts directly by presence, and without means. It is conceived of as a certain undemonstrable force, a Familiar or Genius, by whose impulses the man is guided, but whose counsels he cannot impart; which is company for him, so that such men are often solitary, or if they chance to be social, do not need society, but can entertain themselves very well alone. The purest literary talent appears at one time great, at another time small, but character is of a stellar and undiminishable greatness. What others effect by talent or by eloquence, this man accomplishes by some magnetism. "Half his strength he put not forth." His victories are by demonstration of superiority, and not by crossing of bayonets. He conquers, because his arrival alters the face of affairs. `"O Iole! how did you know that Hercules was a god?" "Because," answered Iole, "I was content the moment my eyes fell on him. When I beheld Theseus, I desired that I might see him offer battle, or at least guide his horses in the chariot-race; but Hercules did not wait for a contest; he conquered whether he stood, or walked, or sat, or whatever thing he did."]' Man, ordinarily a pendant to events, only half attached, and that awkwardly, to the world he lives in, in these examples appears to share the life of things, and to be an expression of the same laws which control the tides and the sun, numbers and quantities.
...all of which begs the question: Can character really be taught?

2 comments:

Wishydig said...

i think the more important question is, does this "character" thing really exist, and is it of any consequence?

Casey said...

I'd be willing to start there, if you were able to suggest another foundation for judging speakers/writers. The only thing I learned at Purdue under the tutelage of the Rhet./Comp. people was the ethos-pathos-logos triangle; but it has always seemed to me, since learning the words for those different appeals, that ethos must come first.

How else do we judge? Why am I drawn to strange guru types with long beards while others aren't?