“Knowledge makes you happy, it makes you free”. This is the thought of Michel Serres, a French historian and philosopher of science who died on June 1 at the age of 88. Author of 80 books, this man of letters was precisely known for his theory of the “science of bridges”. Reflecting on many social subjects, it seems difficult to link Michel Serres to a particular philosophical theme, as his work is vast and innovative.
Born in 1930 in Agen, Michel Serres quickly became passionate about sciences, especially mathematics. However, his attraction to this discipline was quickly called into question by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which made him aware of the questionable nature of certain uses of sciences. He then gave up the Ecole Navale to join the Parisian Lycée Louis Le Grand in order to prepare for the competitions of the Ecole normale supérieure which he would join in 1952. Aggregated of philosophy in 1955, he taught at Clermont-Ferrand and then at the Sorbonne, before leaving for the United States to teach for 47 years at John Hopkins and Stanford Universities.
Among his most famous works, the series “Hermès, Les cinq sens”, published in 1985, in which he highlighted the link between body and mind. Michel Serres is particularly renowned for his doctrine aimed at overturning the categories of knowledge. He was thus in favour of breaking down the barriers between the sciences, supporting the link between the exact sciences and the social sciences, both of which were inspired and nourished by each other.
Fervent believer in the power of education on society, Michel Serres highlighted it in “Le tiers-instruit” in 1989, by reflecting on teaching, defending the power of science and the popularization of scientific knowledge as an element of human freedom.
Quickly recognized for his unique approach to philosophy and sciences, he became a member of the French Academy in 1990 and then, in 1994, Chairman of the Scientific Council of La Cinquième, the French “television channel of knowledge and employment”. For fifteen years, he also insured the radio chronicle “Le sens de l’info” on the France Info channel from 2004 to 2018.
This great French literary figure was also particularly interested in the upheavals linked to the new communication technologies, which he viewed positively. His book “Petites Poucettes” (2012), presents an analysis of the political, social and cognitive changes that are accompanying the revolution, in this case digital, and highlights in particular people’s ability to type on their mobile phones with their thumbs.
Finally, the author was very involved in the ecological cause, the central theme of the book “Le contrat naturel”, (1990) and was one of the first thinkers to introduce the idea of granting legal personality to nature.
His latest book, “Morales mischievous”, was published in February 2019, four months before his death.
We already miss this inspiring and eternally optimistic character.