Laureates 2013

2013 Present - Ideas, Public Intellectuals and Contemporary Philosophers

Michel Serres

Michel Serres, Photograph by Manuel Cohen
Michel Serres, Photograph by Manuel Cohen
Prof. Michel Serres has been professor of philosophy at Clermont-Ferrand, Vincennes, Paris since 1969, has been a full professor of the history of science at Stanford University since 1984, and was elected to the French Academy in 1990. Through his explorations of the parallel developments of scientific, philosophical, and literary trends, Michel Serres has built a reputation as one of modern France's most gifted and original thinkers.

Michel Serres is 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, a passionate curiosity about the present and the willingness—and the ability—to enter productively into discussion of a vast range of current questions. His career began with an enormous and penetrating investigation of Leibniz’s use of mathematical models, which continues to be a standard work, and rapidly developed into a series of inquiries: into the history and nature of mathematics, epistemology, moral philosophy and humanity’s relations with the natural world.

In the great tradition of French intellectuals, Serres has analyzed scientific, philosophical and fictional texts, deftly and reaching original conclusions.  He has led more recent efforts to preserve a French tradition in philosophy, concerned for moral and social questions.

He began his education in the French Naval Academy, and moved from an early career as a serving officer to study at the forcing house of academic and intellectual talent, the École Normale Supérieure. An athlete and a mountain climber, he has never lost his strong practical interest in the powers 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. His career has been public as well as academic: he has represented France at G-7 and UNESCO meetings, and he has consistently and effectively urged the importance of making knowledge accessible to all.

Serres is an eloquent, even seductive writer. Both in France and in the United States, where he has taught for many years at Stanford, he has been a compelling and charismatic teacher, and his lectures and publications have reached large audiences around the world. His combination of deep learning and profound thought with the desire and ability to address the public has become rare.