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Unformatted text preview: set and will fail badly in their moral
development if they remain within those sets”
Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame Press, 1981.), 191.
Ibidem, 191. 21 genuinely cares and has not the capacity for risking harm or danger has to define himself, both
to himself and to others, as a coward.35
Finally, one more important element of Macintyre’s account of practices and its
relation to virtues must be noted, before I turn to its application to the Owen Wingrave
example. Practices are significantly determined by their history. That is why, when we are
initiated into a practice we have to accept the authority of its tradition. This does not mean
that we cannot, once we have been initiated into it, question some of its traditionally
established standards. On the contrary, a tradition cannot thrive without such questioning.
“When a tradition is in good order”, Macintyre says, “it is always partially constituted by an
argument about the goods the pursuit of which gives to that tradition its particular point and
Moreover, according to Macintyre, every person inherits a set of debts and obligations
that come together with the roles she inhabits as a member of a family, clan or a nation. 37 We
cannot simply detach ourselves from that inheritance, but must treat it as “our moral starting
point”.38 In other words, translated into concepts which this paper is concerned with, there is a
set of good reasons for action which we inherit simply by being born into a certain role.
Questioning these reasons is possible and even desirable, but it has to start from a position of CEU eTD Collection the place one has in a traditionally determined practice, and has to be formulated on terms of
this practice. 2.3 MACINTYREIAN INTERPRETATION OF OWEN WINGRAVE
There are two important traditions that the plot of the story is weaved around. One is a
practice of family life, the other – military practice, both with their respective traditions. In the
35 Ibidem, 192.
“The possession of an historical identity, and the possession of a social identity coincide. Notice that rebellion
against my identity is always one possible mode of expressing it”, Ibid, 221.
36 22 Wingrave family, these two traditions significantly intermingle. The tradition of the
Wingraves is in its important part a tradition of the military trade.39 Being a Wingrave, or
more precisely, occupying the role of male member of the Wingrave family in itself means
that there is a reason for joining the army – and indeed that is the claim that the Wingraves are
making when they say that there is a reason for Owen to join the army. And this reason is no
less valid if Owen himself has no motivation to act in accordance with it. However, if Owen is
a Wingrave, which is a fact, and he still does not want to do what he has (in a Macintyreian
sense – external) reason to do, than something must be wrong with him, his motivation is not
transformed in accordance with his role. Since this transformation is enabled by the
possessions of virtues and disabled by their absence,...
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