Ethos is translated from Greek as “character”. For such a complex term there is no certain way to give an exact definition but in general, it describes an ideal or a set of social norms that unites nations or smaller communities. Later ethos evolved into modern terms of ethics and ethology. 

In ancient philosophy "ethos" meant habits, customs, characters, temperaments. The subject area of ethos was a special section of human reality (a certain class of individual qualities correlated with certain habitual forms of social behavior). Ethos was considered to be subject to change and contrasted with physis, the human nature that was uncontrollable and couldn’t be changed.

At the same time, ethos, as a more sustainable moral character in the temporal sense, is often contrasted with pathos, which appears as a spiritual experience.

Aristotle interpreted ethos as a way of depicting a person's character through the style of his speech and through purposefulness as the main sign of human activity. The ancient Greeks used the idea of "pathos". If ethos described a calm, moral character, a reasonable style of behavior, then pathos defined behavior as restless, disordered, irrational, affective. Today the concept of "pathos" can be used to refer to all that leads to the loosening of the normative order in society, to the destruction of the values ​​of ethos, to the "spoiling of morals."

Today, "ethos" is often understood as the lifestyle of a social group, the orientation of its culture, the hierarchy of values adopted in it; And in this sense ethos goes beyond morality. In contrast to morality, concentrates in itself such moral principles that do not manifest in everyday life, evidencing the ineradicable human need for recognizing the moral order in the world, even if it is not in good agreement with the worldly experience of people.

Modern concept of the term makes it possible to clearly distinguish the phenomenon of ethos from morals. This idea is adequate for designating an intermediate level between motley mores and proper morality, existent and due. At the same time, modern concept of "ethos" helps to draw a demarcation line between ethos as real-ought, going beyond poles of the attraction of a chaotic state of morals, and a strict order of  ideally-due, personal moral sphere. Modern dialogue philosophy interprets ethos as a set of moral imperatives present in intersubjective space.

In modern general rhetoric, the term means affective state of information recipient, impacted by any message. The specific features of this state vary depending on certain parameters (metaboles).

Structure of ethos in the general rhetoric includes three varieties:

  • An association with structure of metabole used in the same way, regardless of whether it is sacralization (liturgy), persuasion (advertising), exaltation of certain values ​​(type of poetry),  game (crossword puzzles) or even such linguistic activity that does not at all generate an explicit ethos (finding a name for designation of new reality);
  • Autonomous ethos, associated with the structure of metabole and substance - psychological and sociological factors (paralinguistic aspect);
  • Contextual ethos associated with the structure of  metabole, substance and context. Text appears in  form of a space in which it is necessary to study interdependencies, correspondences, syntagmatic or paradigmatic relationships that are established between different metabolites and collectively create contextual ethos.

Greek tragedy is among the basic establishment of ethos, which in this case posed as a character of the play. Key features of its depiction were limited time on stage and one primitive yet powerful motive which the character uses to get to the end of the play. This is the example of ethos on stage, which suggests limited exposure to the viewers. This lacks complexity but serves as basis of understanding the principle of ethos.