Present: Ideas, public intellectuals and contemporary philosophers
Prof. Michel Serres, one of modern France’s most gifted thinkers, explored parallel developments of scientific, philosophical and literary trends.
He was a Professor of philosophy at Clermont-Ferrand, Vincennes, Paris and a full professor of the history of science at Stanford University. He was elected to the French Academy in 1990.
Serres was a French master thinker of the old school, with an intimate knowledge of the Western tradition in philosophy and science, from its origins to the present. He possessed a passionate curiosity about the present and a willingness – and ability – to enter productively into discussion of a vast range of contemporary questions.
His career began with an enormous and penetrating investigation of Leibniz’s use of mathematical models. His work rapidly developed into a series of inquiries into the history and nature of mathematics, epistemology, moral philosophy and humanity’s relationship with the natural world.
In the great tradition of French intellectuals, Serres deftly analyzed scientific, philosophical and fictional texts, reaching original conclusions. He led more recent efforts to preserve a French tradition in philosophy, concerned with moral and social questions.
He began his education in the French Naval Academy, and shifted from an early career as a serving officer to study at the École Normale Supérieure. As an athlete and mountain climber, he never lost his strong practical interest in the power of the human body and the ways in which the human race exploits the earth – an interest that has yielded a series of important works, starting with The Natural Contract, on humanity and the environment.
Serres’ career was public as well as academic: He represented France at G-7 and UNESCO meetings, and consistently and effectively advocated making knowledge accessible to all.
Serres was an eloquent, even seductive writer. Both in France and in the United States, where he taught for many years at Stanford, he was a compelling and charismatic teacher. His lectures and publications have reached large audiences around the world. The combination of deep learning and profound thought with the desire and ability to address the public that Serres possessed has become rare.