“The Song Sparrow and the Child is an amazingly learned, unpretentiously cultured meditation on a moral, spiritual, and cultural problem. It emerges as a deeply felt and beautifully written provocation to think and respond to what Vining calls total theory.” George Levine, Rutgers University
In this thought-provoking book, distinguished legal scholar Joseph Vining traces the complex roots of brutal twentieth-century human experimentation and extermination to worldviews that dehumanize both perpetrators and victims in distinctive ways, stripping them of their individuality as well as their intrinsic dignity and value. Vining finds a disturbing parallel between these worldviews and what he calls “total theory.” Total theories are “beautiful and helpful explanations through attention to system and process” that aggressively claim to account for the universe and everything in it. Vining maintains that some of the most gifted intellectuals and scientists of our time profess these theories without necessarily considering the implications of such totalizing worldviews.
Using the example of the song sparrow and the child, Vining opens our eyes to the ramifications of total theory. He challenges readers to question casual acceptance of the total theories that are widely and quietly taught in contemporary biology, physics, and mathematics—theories that Vining maintains cannot be and are not actually believed by the people espousing them. This book is an invitation to recall our individuality and to take seriously the connection between thought and action, theory and practice. He asks readers to think deeply about what actual belief is and how what we believe in science has crucial consequences for the future of humanity and the natural world.
To assist readers in understanding total theory, Vining draws upon the legal sensibilities commonly shared by scientist and nonscientist alike. He extends his consideration to include the dignity not only of humans, but also of animals. In elegant, highly readable prose, The Song Sparrow and the Child offers a reconciliation of spirit and mind, serious science and a serious sense of purpose and meaning.
“The Song Sparrow and the Child is continuous with earlier writings that have established Vining among the more profoundly challenging but also more idiosyncratic and elusive (and as a result, I believe, underappreciated) legal thinkers in recent decades. . . . [O]ne of the voices in the legal academy most worth listening to.” — Michigan Law Review
“[A] wise, gentle, and impassioned book.” — Theological Studies
“Vining uses words well, even elegantly. His book is a combination legal argument and sermon.” — Choice