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Michel Serres: Transdisciplinarity as Relative Exteriority
Na paměť Michela Serrese, který zemřel v červnu 2019.
Text je trochu hermetický, ale může být podnětem k dalšímu uvažování o praktických krocích, které by mohly vést k mezidruhové spolupráci která je životně důležitá pro zmírnění hrozivých důsledků zapříčiněných monodisciplinárním systémem hegemonie ekonomiky během posledních století.
Serres demonstrated his interest in digital technology on many occasions: during talks he gave for the fortieth anniversary of Inria in 2007 and at the 2018 congress of the Société informatique de France (French Informatics Society), in his preface to Inria's strategic plan for 2013-2017, and most of all, in a speech he delivered to the Académie Française in 2011, which become a huge success : Petite Poucette (Thumbelina), Le Pommier, 2012).
Serres first addressed digital technology through the philosophy of technology. Looking back on his thinking, this interest can be traced to the first volume of the series Hermès: la communication (Minuit, 1969). A key idea in Michel Serres's thinking is that in every era, technology shapes the world in which we live: law, politics, cities, sciences, religions etc. Communication technology plays a crucial role in all of these areas, and is arguably of greater importance than the technology used to produce material goods. In the sixties, this was a groundbreaking idea.
Does Leibniz practise the philosophy of sciences? How, in the first place, to define it? Where is it? What does it do? It is apparently any kind of theory of science. Yet a theory is primarily a spectacle, and looking at a theatre presupposes standing in a site exterior to the stage. Leibniz often uses the word theatre (for nature, for envelopments and developments of the living . . .), but never for science. He is one of the heroes of an action that cannot become representation without being altered, without losing its essence of direct action. He provides the only discourse that does not pretend, the only judiciary act where the judge must be party in order to give his sentence. Indeed, Leibniz speaks from within science. He practises it.
In its relation to scientific knowledge, philosophy seeks a site from whence to speak about the encyclopaedia. But the latter, well constructed, speaks a language closed upon itself. Yet there are four and only four possible sites that philosophers have discovered, defined and practised. One can gaze upon something from above, from below, from the front or from the back. Leibniz never adopted any of these points of view: he somehow foresaw that all four were conceivable; he envisioned the alteration they could induce. He glimpsed that the only discourse on science was the discourse of science itself, that its definition could only be objectivized or thematized through its own course. These four sites define four types or modes of appropriation of science, four ingenious ways to acquire a property by illicit means – in other words, to gain a sovereign science without going through science as such. Briefly, the first of these points of view is the Greek site. Metaphysics is the queen of sciences, in an overhanging, domineering position. Rigorous sciences are taken as propaedeutic to the dialectic ascension, they are initiatory. Philosophy is a bird’s eye thought, a collection of generative and constitutive ideas. On the first steep slopes of the mountain dwell a few geometrician or arithmetician slaves, or the child that the philosopher once was, in a world that he has long forgotten. The elevated site allows him to judge true from false, relevancy and opinion. Metaphysics is the toponym for site. There is a queen; she is normative. It is said to be a science, in a superlative manner.
The second point of view is the Kantian site. Philosophy, having become science, extricates the conditions of possibility of the encyclopaedic exercise. It unfolds layers and subterranean formations to be discovered in the act of the subject, or elsewhere. The geological, paleontological, archaeological metaphors display an orientation towards the grounding, the foundation, the origin. ‘What does science rest upon?’ one asks. Such chronology goes from Descartes to Kant, from Kant to Husserl and his epigones. The transcendental (or the historico-intentional) is the toponym for site. There is a ground, a constitutive ground. Philosophy is said to be science, fundamentally. The third point of view is the site of the Enlightenment. Philosophy projects in front of itself, in a dynamic of progress, the essence of the true. The horizon – where fields of attraction permanently polarize the history of science – constantly recedes. There is a speed vector and an acceleration vector, both oriented in the direction of history. It is a filter of true, of false, of the accident, of the essence, of the crisis, of accomplishment. ‘What is science heading towards?’ one asks. This chronology goes from the Aufkla¨rung to Hegel. Teleology is the toponym for site. There is a telos, it attracts. Philosophy is the science of points of no return.
The fourth point of view is the site of modernity. The philosopher is a distrustful and lucid consciousness that cannot be easily fooled. He seeks out the almighty demon behind science. Behind the mask of knowledge and the expert language, the detective epistemology lays bare the class representation, the ideology in power, the hic fecit cui prodest, the unknown or unthought, impulsive or dominant. From Marx, Nietzsche, Freud to the contemporary, reading techniques aim at a palimpsest: active writing stands behind activated writing. One asks: ‘What is hiding behind this science, which performs scenes it doesn’t exactly own? Who is the hidden engineer? Who or what is pulling the strings of these abused puppets, which in turn abuse us?’ The approach is retroactive: to slip behind all effective knowledge, behind each and every thing, to constitute, in the tradition of the impregnable discourse of philosophy, a discourse behind which no discourse can slide. There was no higher, deeper or more prophetic discourse; there is now no more anterior, more archaic discourse.
The philosopher sees the backs but he has no back. The retroactive is the toponym for site. There are a tergo forces; they are disruptive. This law of the four cardinal sites brings us to the end of an adventure: that of the impregnable texts kept external to knowledge: the four pathways of domination. From these privileged locations, the philosopher invariably remains one who can neither be mistaken nor mistake us. This could be a definition of God: the philosopher is the heir of priests. The scientist takes risks and confronts the dangers of non-knowledge. His endeavour is fallible; his discourse never goes beyond its self-imposed norms. Science is bound by its own law, it is a game bowed in front of the rules. Outside the field, outside the limits, the theoretician-spectator can always try to escape the rules, what he calls overtaking; his discourse unfailingly exceeds the norms he exposes. The philosopher is a subtle God, that no one can catch swindling. He plays offside. In the name of his privilege, he gives himself the right to speak the very contrary of science: challenge mathematics, immobilize the Earth, negate the thermodynamic principles, etc. Speaking of science, he does not speak science. This can be refined. Each and every discipline of the encyclopaedic movement has served as a suppletive site, from which to speak of all the others. Just as God is at once transcendent and immanent, the philosopher is simultaneously outside and within. In other words, each of the sites mentioned is endowed with an alibi. The Trojan horse. Situated above, but leaning on mathematics; situated below, yet modelling itself on mechanics, astronomy or logics; situated ahead, but taking his values from biology or history; situated behind, yet referring himself to the humanities. The global discrepancy (de´calage) generative of philosophical discourse is accompanied by a local centring within the knowledge cycle. The dominant discipline is the courthouse or the courthouse’s alibi.
Philosophy remains the science of sciences, but might protect itself by means of a substitute: the region elected as the support for judgement and analysis. It is a small-scale science of sciences. Its selection in the encyclopaedia, its partition, are thus to be justified. They are, in general, induced by a history. How, may I ask, are we to grab by the tail what calls itself a mouse, but a bird an instant later? In any case, the discrepancy is visible. The aim is to take distance from a knowledge that is thereby objectivized, to see it from outside, in order to stage it in a sovereign and untrapped theory. Possessing the knowledge without having its knowledge. Three types of discrepancy: absolute exteriority, outside of the encyclopaedia; relative or transdisciplinary exteriority; and finally, total substitution, where the philosopher starts to speak directly of the object, bracketing science. Ultimately, we are either dealing with metaphysics (the prefix is thus clearly defined), interpretation by means of a code or a superimposed filter, or a dream, in the manner described by Diderot. This is not a condemnation; dreams can be fecund or premonitory. Let us eliminate distance, enter into the effective workings of science. Let its discourse speak. An attentive listener will easily hear its implicit philosophy.
Is this really a method? Yes. A method is acceptable, not only when the organon which promotes or justifies it is rigorous, or when it stands on its own as a systematic or normative monument – hence the derisory efficiency of most traditionally taught ‘methods’ (by efficiency we mean the ratio between results and the power of the constructed device) – but when it is fecund, here and now. A method is preferable by virtue of what it does, not by what it thinks. At stake here is not to speak of, around, about, on (meaning ‘above’) science, but simply to speak science, one science, this part, that theorem.
Translated by Lucie Mercier
Michel Serres was a philosopher, historian of sciences, writer and member of the Acade´mie Franc¸ aise, who has taught in Clermont-Ferrand, Vincennes, Paris I and Stanford University. Throughout his numerous books, Serres has designed a singular path at the crossroads of philosophy, literature and the sciences. In the course of the 1960s, he designed a new philosophy of communication, proposing a transdisciplinary renewal of epistemology. His works may be characterized as a search for specific points of passage between the cultural and the scientific realms, evolving into a polymorphous reflexion on topics as diverse as aesthetics, ecology and technology. He has authored over 50 books, among which (translated into English) are Herme`s: Literature, Science, Philosophy; The Parasite; The Birth of Physics; Genesis; The Natural Contract; Rome: The First Book of Foundations; The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies; and Biogea.
This text originally appeared under the heading ‘Philosophy of Science’ as the final part of the essay ‘Leibniz Retranslated into Mathematical Language’, in Michel Serres, La Traduction: Herme`s III (Paris: Minuit, 1974), pp. 152–7. The essay summarizes Michel Serres’s 1968 doctoral dissertation on Leibniz, accounting for the relationship between Leibniz’s mathematical thought and his philosophy as one of translation.
It is translated with the permission of Minuit publishers.