What is meant by “moral pathos”?

I am not sure how to define it as a term.


Have seen it in various contexts, but I'm afraid I have marked me the term more then where and when; thus all I can say is “in some books”. Still, to add some examples here are some web search hits:

Nietzche and Ethics

Paul J.M. Van Tongeren

1 Introduction

Friedrich Nietzche is without doubt one of the most radical critics of morality and ethics in the philosophy. But at the same time there is an unmistakably strong moral pathos in his philosophy, even in his criticism of morality and ethics. […]

I have chosen to use the space allotted me in order to say a few words about an essential characteristic trait of Kierkegaard's spirit, which Professor Geismar touches upon in one or two places in these lectures. I refer to his unique power in bringing home a moral challenge to the minds of his readers. The capacity to preach without descending to trivialities, and without ever striking a note of false pathos, is a very rare thing, perhaps the rarest of all accomplishments – especially among the “scientific” theologians. Of the early thinkers in the Christian community perhaps Tertullian and St. Augustine were among the most mighty in moral pathos; in later times Pascal and Luther, the William Law of A Serious Call to Devout and Holy Life, Jon Bunyan, and several among the mystics. […] Yet in my opinion Kierkegaard easily surpasses all the great names on this list, which has no intention to be exhaustive but only illustrative, in his persuasive delineation, in firmness of his grip upon essentials, in conceptual clarity and precision, and precision, and in reflective sophistication. His esthetic pathos covers the entire range of a gifted poet's fundamental moods; he produces pure poetic effects in prose. His moral pathos is a raging conflagration that will not be extinguished. […]

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    Welcome to Philosophy.SE! Where did you come across the term? Can you provide more context? – James Kingsbery Apr 29 '15 at 19:58
  • Moral pathos roughly means moral feelings. Can you clarify what you are trying to ask? – virmaior Apr 30 '15 at 6:57

"Pathos" is appeal to emotions, a passionate appeal, as opposed to ethos and logos that appeal to character and reason respectively. Moral pathos is appeal to emotions about morality. What unites Nietzche, Kierkegaard, Pascal, St. Augustine, etc., is that they are both moralizers, whether advancing a version of morality or denouncing it, and very passionate writers, employing various rhetorical means (vivid examples, poetic sentences, etc.) to ignite readers' passions while making their (im)moral case.

On a side note the expression is a macaronic mixture, "moral" is Latin, and "pathos" is Greek.

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  • Nice. Thanks. Could not find any description of the term on The Internet and did not quite manage to formulate its meaning in my head. Had only more of a feeling of its meaning, no pun intended ;) – user129107 May 3 '15 at 22:53

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