Academic journal article Review of Contemporary Philosophy

Michel Serres's Encyclopedic Philosophical Vision of an Ever-Changing Human Landscape

Academic journal article Review of Contemporary Philosophy

Michel Serres's Encyclopedic Philosophical Vision of an Ever-Changing Human Landscape

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In this review paper based on the research conducted for my latest book The Encyclopedic Philosophy of Michel Serres: Writing the Modern World and Anticipating the Future (2016), I will demonstrate both the originality and importance of Serres's complex interdisciplinary thought in addition to highlighting my own contributions to the field of Serresian Studies. As evidenced by his plethora of contributions to many divergent disciplines including philosophy, information science, environmental ethics, literature, and theology, Serres's philosophy is inexhaustible. As the aforementioned title of my book unequivocally implies, Serres's vision of what engaging in philosophical inquiry entails is predicated upon a certain image of the role of a philosopher in society. According to Serres, a philosopher is someone who tries to anticipate the future directions that a particular phenomenon might assume based upon the current trajectory of human civilization.

Due to the encyclopedic nature of his vast base of interdisciplinary knowledge and his astute observations, many of Serres's bold predictions from the first half of his illustrious career that spans almost half a century have come to fruition. Since many of Serres's earlier ideas that seemed exaggerated or "far-fetched" at the time have now been validated by specialists from numerous fields, the highly original theories that he develops in later works such as Hominescence (2001), L'Incandescent (2003), Rameaux (2004), Temps des crises (2009), and Petite Poucette (2012) should be taken seriously as well. As Niran Abbas underscores, Serres's early "prophetic" and "forceful visions" help us to understand the present situation of the modern subject more fully at the dawn of a new millennium (Abbas, 2005: 8). Moreover, the philosopher's most recent ideas allow us to catch a possible glimpse into the future of humankind and into the collective fate of all the inhabitants of the entire biosphere to which we are inextricably linked.

In a changing landscape epitomized by the rapid and incessant exchange of information in real time, an anthropogenic crisis that is spiraling out of control, longer life spans, and a reduction in suffering linked to the birth of modern medicine, Serres persuasively maintains that philosophy is more crucial than ever. Given the considerable ontological gap between the quotidian lived experiences of our not-so-distant human ancestors for whom our current antiquated institutional structures were initially conceived and the modern lifestyle, the philosopher argues that everything must be rethought and reconstituted. For the new type of humanity identified by Serres in the aforementioned recent essays, the twenty-first century could represent the golden age of philosophy. Serres encourages mainstream philosophers to embrace the daunting challenge of reinventing the essence of everything in a state of universal crisis. As this essay and my monograph highlight, Serres's thought is a much-needed point of departure for (re-)envisioning and rebuilding the world of tomorrow.

2. The Advent of the Age of Information

Reflecting upon the philosophical repercussions of the magnitude of the sweeping social changes that were unfolding in Western civilization in the 1960s, Serres realized that he was witnessing the beginning of the post- Marxist era. Specifically, the philosopher recognized that controlling the technology for disseminating information to the masses was on the verge of becoming more vital to the survival of the capitalist paradigm than possessing a stranglehold over the means of production. As Roy Boyne reveals, "His five books, with the collective title Hermès: la communication, were based on the idea that communication in contemporary Western societies had become more important than production" (Boyne, 1998: 208). While his more popular and widely-read Marxist colleagues during the sixties and seventies were still creating elaborate, outmoded theoretical models that reflected a world almost exclusively revolving around the production of primary materials, Serres took a professional gamble by distancing himself from mainstream philosophers. …

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