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Download Chapter 2 - The Close Reading of Cosmologies (604 KB)

Download Chapter 3 - Everything Only and Nothing But (689 KB)

Download Chapter 4 - Inventing Science (434 KB)

Download Chapter 5 - The Problem of the Negative (467 KB)

Download Chapter 6 - The Fundamental Acknowledgement in Scientific Thought (240 KB)

Download Chapter 7 - Ways of Knowing (297 KB)

Download Chapter 8 - The Opening and the Line (440 KB)

Download Chapter 9 - The Claim of the Child (608 KB)

Download Chapter 10 - The Claim of the Sparrow (742 KB)

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For centuries public claims on behalf of science have been made about our nature and the nature of the world as a whole. Over the twentieth century such claims on behalf of science have grown deeper and stronger. More and more they are total claims, cosmological in the largest sense, and they have evoked opposition equally deep and strong.

There is the scientist in all of us. There is, too, the lawyer and law in all of us, which we realize the moment we serve as a witness or citizen juror. This book explores what the legal mind and ear can contribute to resolving this deep and growing conflict within and among us.

"The question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether, in the long run, anything else affects them." This was the prescient epigraph William James adopted for his lectures on pragmatism at the beginning of the twentieth century. In it is why this conflict is so deep at the beginning of the twenty-first and its resolution so important for our future together. We know that conventional limits and restraints can change with belief about the ultimate nature of things. The twentieth century has its warning examples, most gruesome where total vision has appeared in social and political thought. The connection between what we think about the nature of the world, and what we allow ourselves to do, is now widely felt, and, with good reason, widely feared.

Our question here will be whether there are, in fact, openings in the total visions of today. The visions are of the facts of the world. What are the facts about the visions? The juror in us might naturally ask of a person testifying to them, "How am I to take what you are saying? Do you actually believe what I hear you to say?" This is empirical inquiry that we all engage in all the time without much thinking how we do it. At our best, especially in important matters, we reach for all the evidence. We listen to all a person says before concluding what any part of it might mean, and we treat what a person does as evidence of the meaning of what a person says.

In this way we will be addressing here how far belief about the ultimate nature of things has actually changed over the twentieth century, in scientist or nonscientist. We will try to let ourselves be told what science is, on behalf of which people speak, and we will wonder how "antiscience" could ever really be a stance to take. Throughout, we will be asking how any total vision of the world can claim the true allegiance of human beings living and thinking together in it.

This book is also about belief-or not-in spirit. The child learns to speak. The song sparrow comes to sing a beautiful song, special not just to its kind but to its individual throat and tongue. They are often compared, the development of individual song in the song sparrow and language in the child. Experiments that would be gruesome and called atrocity in a human context are performed on the young song sparrow. What is it that holds us back from performing the same experiment on the child-or letting it be done? What really, in thought and actual belief today?

On such large questions touching our basic view of each other and ourselves, and other creatures too such as the song sparrow, we should be having a conversation or open meditation. The discussion ought not to be primarily argumentative, as we tend to understand argument. Binding you to me by successful moves of my mind would lose all that can be hoped for. It cannot be merely descriptive, with us absent from the picture. Nor should it try to move from one proposition to another whose meaning or truth depends on having done with the first. In any conversation or meditation we return more than once to the questions and examples with which we begin, and we will do so here. An earlier book of mine took a form that was meant to merge with and give the reader an experience of its subject, which was the legal form of thought. The form of this book too .reflects what we are talking about, a world that really does include ourselves.

Publication Date



University of Notre Dame Press


nature of the world, cosmology, scientific empirical inquiry, total theory, ways of knowing, epistemology, scientific knowledge, science and antiscience


Ethics and Political Philosophy | Law and Philosophy | Philosophy of Science


Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. Originally published as: Vining, Joseph. The Song Sparrow and the Child: Claims of Science and Humanity. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.

The Song Sparrow and the Child: Claims of Science and Humanity