Serres, Michel 1930-

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Serres, Michel 1930-


Born September 1, 1930, in Agen, France. Education: Degree in philosophy, 1955; Ph.D., 1955.


Office—Department of French and Italian, Stanford University, 108 Pigott Hall, Stanford, CA 94305-2010.


Philosopher and writer. Has taught the philosophy of science and French literature at various institutions, including University of Clermont-Ferrand, University of Vincennes, and the Sorbonne; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, professor of French, 1984—. Military service: French Marines, officer, 1956-58; served in various locations, including the Atlantic Ocean, the Suez Canal, Algeria, and the Mediterranean Sea.


Académie Française.


Named Commander of the Legion of Honor.


Le Système de Leibniz et ses modèles mathématiques, two volumes, Presses Universitaires de France (Paris, France), 1968, translated as The System of Leibniz, Clinamen (Manchester, England), 2001.

Hermès, Éditions de Minuit (Paris, France), Volume 1: La Communication, 1968, Volume 2: L'Interférence, 1972, Volume 3: La Traduction, 1974, Volume 4: La Distribution, 1977, Volume 5: Le Passage du nord-ouest, 1980, selection from all five volumes translated as Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy, edited by Josué V. Harari and David F. Bell, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1982.

Jouvences sur Jules Verne, Éditions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1974.

Esthétiques sur Carpaccio, Hermann (Paris, France), 1975.

Feux et signaux de brume, Zola (title means "Fire and Smoke Signals, Zola"), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1975.

La Naissance de la physique dans le texte de Lucrèce: Fleuves et turbulences, Éditions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1977, translated by Jack Hawkes as The Birth of Physics, Clinamen Press (Manchester, England), 2000.

Le Parasite, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1980, translated by Lawrence R. Schehr as The Parasite, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1982.

Genèse, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1982, translated by Genevieve James and James Nielson as Genesis, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1995.

Détachement: Apologue, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1983, translated by Genevieve James and Raymond Federman as Detachment, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 1989.

Rome: Le Livre des fondations, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1983, translated by Felicia McCarren as Rome: The Book of Foundations, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1991.

Les cinq sens (title means "The Five Senses"), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1985.

L'Hermaphrodite: Sarrasine sculpteur, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1987.

Statues: Le Second livre des fondations (title means "Statues: The Second Book of Foundations"), Éditions F. Bourin (Paris, France), 1987.

(Editor) Eléments d'histoire des sciences, Bordas (Paris, France), 1989, translated as A History of Scientific Thought: Elements of a History of Science, Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1995.

Le Contrat naturel, Éditions F. Bourin (Paris, France), 1990, translated by Elizabeth MacArthur and William Paulson as The Natural Contract, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1995.

Le Tiers-instruit, Éditions F. Bourin (Paris, France), 1991, translated by Sheila Faria Glaser and William Paulson as The Troubadour of Knowledge, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

Eclaircissements: Cinq entretiens avec Bruno Latour (interviews), Éditions F. Bourin (Paris, France), 1992, translated as Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1995.

La Légende des anges, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1993, translated by Francis Cowper as Angels: A Modern Myth, 1995.

Les Origines de la géometrie: Tiers livre des fondations, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1993, translated as Origins of Geometry, Clinamen (Manchester, England), 2001.

Atlas, Julliard (Paris, France), 1994.

Les messages à distance, Fides (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1995.

Eloge de la philosophie en langue française, Fayard (Paris, France), 1995.

Les Arbres de connaissance (title means "The Trees of Knowledge"), La Découverte (Paris, France), 1996.

Nouvelles du monde, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1997.

Variations sur le corps (title means "Variations on the Body"), Pommier-Fayard (Paris, France), 1999.

Hominescence (essays), Éditions le Pommier (Paris, France), 2001.

L'incandescent: Essais, Éditions le Pommier (Paris, France), 2003.

Jules Verne, la science et l'homme contemporain: Conversations avec Jean-Paul Dekiss, Éditions le Pommier (Paris, France), 2003.

(With Pascal Picq and Jean-Didier Vincent) Qu'est-ce que l'humain?, Éditions le Pommier (Paris, France), 2003.

Rameaux, Éditions le Pommier (Paris, France), 2004.

Récits d'Humanisme, Éditions le Pommier (Paris, France), 2006

Author of introduction and notes to revised edition of Cours de philosophie positive, by Auguste Comte, Hermann (Paris, France), 1998; author of preface to Paysages des sciences, Pommier (Paris, France), 1999. Contributor to periodicals, including Bulletin de la Société Française de Philosophie, Stanford Italian Review, Substance: A Review of Theory and Literary Criticism, and Theory, Culture and Society: Explorations in Critical Social Science.


Michel Serres is a highly regarded French philosopher with a keen interest in the philosophy of science. "Serres' early work," according to Steven D. Brown in the Sociological Review, "consists of formal monographs and essays on figures from the history of philosophy, such as Leibniz … and Lucretius." Brown went on to note, however, that "interleaved here are commentaries on novelists such as Zola and Jules Verne, along with studies of thermodynamics, biology and information theory." Serres's work has evolved into an attempt to reconcile the world of science and the so-called "softer" areas of knowledge, including literature and philosophy. In the words of Simon Critchley in the Times Literary Supplement: "The audacity of Serres's work is to attempt to bring together science and the humanities and to re-enchant a disenchanted world. It is a question of bridging the broken halves of the human and natural sciences in what Serres calls a third culture."

In The Parasite, Serres posits that one way of defining a parasite is as the interference or static that works against the communication of an idea. As Mark C. Taylor reported in the Religious Studies Review, however, the philosopher "argues that such disruption is not merely destructive but is the necessary condition for systematic complexification." In The Natural Contract, Serres puts forth the idea that there is a natural contract "that recognizes that all other contracts, including social and scientific, are subject to global constraints," according to A.B. Stewart in Choice. "Serres charts how nature has played the role of excluded middle in the unfolding relationship between science and law," explained Brown. "Nature is that which must be expelled to found the social, an expulsion that science confirms by seizing upon the natural as an external realm to be studied. But," the critic added, "nature also serves as the support for judgment, as the supposed origin of a natural law which can be used to adjudicate scientific dispute."

Serres makes an even more radical statement in Angels: A Modern Myth by bringing theology into the mix. Though he uses the idea of angels as a metaphor for messengers, and creates a dialogue between the two angel characters of Pia and Pantope, Serres is sincere in his offer of what Critchley labeled the "strongly Christian vision as a solution to the inequality of the world of fallen angels we inhabit." Brown maintained that Serres "invites us to consider the co-existence of the ancient and the modern and our re-enactment of the theological… . This is perhaps reason enough to read his texts."

According to Raymond Boisvert in Zygon: "Genesis is Serres's attempt to get beyond philosophy as architecture. … Like Plato, he wants philosophy to have the courage to embrace difference and multiplicity." In Genesis, chaos is presented as a positive force that "will help rescue philosophers from the one-sided preoccupation with architectonics of various sorts," related Boisvert. The critic went on to conclude that the book "provides more than a new metaphysics. It suggests a new ethics as well," because "the highest ideal becomes not unitary, pared down purity but widespread mix and agglomeration." In other words, the more individual variation and differences a society tolerates, the more moral it is. Boisvert concluded: "If Serres's aim was to match content with style, the rich, bubbling cauldron that is Genesis has succeeded."

In The Troubadour of Knowledge, Serres discusses, among other topics, left-handedness and stories about travelers and troubadours. As in many of his other volumes, his aim with every topic is to advocate a bridge between the two categories of rigid scientific observation and emotional subjectivity. Brown held that "Serres recognizes in The Troubadour of Knowledge [that] what is at stake in this problem is not only formal issues around the relationship between parts and wholes, but also metaphysical and spiritual dilemmas around the connection between deities and mortals, founders and those founded." Choice contributor H.I. Einsohn described the book as a "stunning, original meditation on what it means to be human in a world suffused by difference."



Choice, November, 1995, A.B. Stewart, review of The Natural Contract, p. 484; April, 1998, H.I. Einsohn, review of The Troubadour of Knowledge, p. 1379.

Religious Studies Review, July, 1984, Mark C. Taylor, review for The Parasite, p. 282.

Sociological Review, February, 2000, Steven D. Brown, "The Angelology of Knowledge: Michel Serres," p. 147.

Spectator, December 16, 1995, Alan Wall, "Flight, the Good Flight," p. 72.

Times Literary Supplement, January 19, 1996, Simon Critchley, "Michel Serres's Attempt to Re-Enchant the World," p. 3.

Zygon, September, 1998, Raymond Boisvert, review of Genesis, p. 481.


Michael Serres Home Page, http://www.michelserres. com (June 17, 2006).

Stanford University Web site, (June 30, 2006), biographical and career information on Michel Serres.