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{Excerpt} Blaise Pascal felt that “Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought.” A contemporary of René Descartes, Pascal is however best remembered for resisting rationalism, which he thought could not determine major truths: “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” Blaise Pascal and René Descartes are reference points for two major attitudes to conscious representation of the world: although both saw reason as the primary source of knowledge, they disagreed profoundly over the competence of Man—the truth, as always, lies between faith and radical doubt.

For sure, pace the propensity of intellectuals to promulgate eternal truths, or at least make a lasting impression, the idea of critical thinking neither begins nor ends with Pascal or Descartes. Socrates set the agenda nearly 2,500 years ago when the “Socratic Method” established the need to seek evidence, analyze basic concepts, scrutinize reasoning and assumptions, and trace the implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well: “Knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning.” Thereafter, within the overall framework of skepticism, numerous scholars raised awareness of the potential power of reasoning and of the need for that to be systematically cultivated and cross-examined.

Critical thinking, by its very nature, demands recognition that all questioning stems from a point of view and occurs within a frame of reference; proceeds from some purpose—presumably, to answer a question or solve a problem; relies on concepts and ideas that rest in turn on assumptions; has an informational base that must be interpreted; and draws on basic inferences to make conclusions that have implications and consequences. To note, each dimension of reasoning is linked simultaneously with the other; problems of thinking in any of them will impact others and should be monitored. Hence, effective, full-spectrum questioning that connects from multiple perspectives must illuminate each element of thought so it may permeate the model.


Suggested Citation

Serrat, O. (2010). Critical thinking. Washington, DC: Asian Development Bank.

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This article was first published by the Asian Development Bank (