Song Sparrow and the Child
Claims of Science and Humanity
212 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 , 2 halftones
Hardcover | 9780268043629 | February 2004
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- Author Bio
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.
Joseph Vining is Hutchins Professor of Law at the University of Michigan.
“The Song Sparrow and the Child is a powerful indictment of the impulses toward intellectual imperialism that have arisen in the wake of the fragmentation of the human and natural sciences. Vining has given us an important book, illuminating as only he can the hidden connections among seemingly unrelated phenomena.” —Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University
“The Song Sparrow and the Child is an astonishing and wonderful book. With exquisite sensitivity to science as an admirable human practice Joseph Vining has thought through the implications of the scientific ambition for “total theory,” for all-encompassing frameworks of explanation. Far from being intrinsic to the scientific endeavor, Vining argues that total theory is a threat—not only to science but also to the broader realm of human thought and ethical action. The Song Sparrow and the Child recalls us to a concern for particularity and for honesty about the infliction of suffering which is intellectually convincing and does so with both grace and passion. This is a book that demands, and rewards, thinking hard with the mind and heart.” —H. Jefferson Powell, Professor of Law and Divinity, Duke University
“This book is an erudite, personal, and even poetic discourse on the conception of humankind’s role that may be necessary in order that the sparrow and the child, the lamb and the lion, and all humankind live together with a greater sense of awe and harmony.” —Harold T. Shapiro, President Emeritus and Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton University
". . .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. . . one of the voices in the legal academy most worth listening to." —Michigan Law Review
". . . wise, gentle, and impassioned book. . ." —Theological Studies
"Vining uses words well, even elegantly. His book is a combination legal argument and sermon." —Choice