Voltaire, a prominent Enlightenment thinker, often emphasized the importance of reason and critical thinking, which he associated with “thinking with your head,” over emotions and passions, which he linked to “thinking with your heart.” Here’s an explanation of why he made this distinction:

Thinking with Your Head (Reason)

  • Rationality: Voltaire advocated for the use of reason, logic, and evidence in forming beliefs and making decisions. He believed that rational thinking leads to clear, objective, and well-founded conclusions.
  • Enlightenment Values: The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that emphasized reason, science, and individualism. Voltaire, as a leading figure of this movement, saw rational thought as a means to challenge superstition, ignorance, and tyranny.
  • Progress and Improvement: Voltaire argued that using reason is essential for progress in science, governance, and society. Rational thinking allows for critical examination of existing beliefs and systems, paving the way for improvements and reforms.

Thinking with Your Heart (Emotion)

  • Passion and Prejudice: Voltaire recognized that emotions and passions can cloud judgment and lead to biased, impulsive, and irrational decisions. He believed that decisions driven by emotion are often shortsighted and can result in harm or injustice.
  • Superstition and Dogma: During Voltaire’s time, many people accepted religious dogma and superstitions without question. Voltaire criticized this blind faith, arguing that it was based on emotion rather than reason, and often led to intolerance and persecution.
  • Conflict and Division: Voltaire saw that emotions, particularly strong passions such as hatred, anger, and fear, could lead to conflict and division among people. He believed that rational discourse and debate were more likely to resolve differences peacefully and constructively.

Practical Implications

  • Social and Political Critique: Voltaire used reason to critique the established social and political order, including the absolute monarchy and the influence of the Church. He believed that rational critique and discussion were necessary to challenge unjust authority and promote human rights and freedoms.
  • Advocacy for Tolerance: Voltaire famously advocated for religious tolerance and freedom of thought. He believed that rationality and critical thinking would lead to greater understanding and acceptance of different viewpoints, reducing conflict and promoting peace.

Example in Voltaire’s Works

In his satirical novel “Candide,” Voltaire uses reason and wit to critique the overly optimistic philosophy of Leibnizian optimism. By exposing the absurdities and injustices of the world through rational analysis, Voltaire encourages readers to think critically rather than accepting comforting but unfounded beliefs.


Voltaire’s distinction between thinking with your head and thinking with your heart reflects his belief in the supremacy of reason over emotion. He saw rational thinking as the key to enlightenment, progress, and justice, while he viewed unchecked emotions as sources of error, superstition, and conflict. This emphasis on reason is a cornerstone of Enlightenment thought and continues to influence modern perspectives on critical thinking and decision-making.

Note: Text generated in part with OpenAI’s model and language reviewed, edited, and revised in part but ultimate responsibility for content accepted.