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Unformatted text preview: t they’ll be hung if they don’t find
one. Make it a capital crime – that’ll quicken the wits of the ministers!’ His eyes brightened as he spoke, and he
looked assured and exalted. Mr Coyle gave a sigh of perplexed resignation – it was a monomania.”, Henry
James, Owen Wingrave
Consider just this exchange between Owen’s colleague Lechmer and Spencer Coyle are discussing Owen’s
decline to join the army:
“’But it has been the proffesion of all his family!’
‘Their profession? It has been their religion!”’, Henry James, “Owen Wingrave” 25 be father who is their for his children and who is able to help them in their initiation into a
practice of virtues42. So there is also a good reason for a male member of a Wingrave family
to stay close to his children and to try to stay alive at least long enough until they are brought
up – something that he is certainly not going to be able to do if he dies on distant battlefield,
as happened to Owen’s father who had “recived his death-cut, in close quarters, from an
Afghan saber” before Owen himself was even born. This is not to say that reason for joining
the army cannot take precedence over the reasons for staying with one’s children, even from
the point of view of the practice of family life, for instance in the situation the attack of the
enemy forces would represent an immediate threat to one’s family. But this is certainly not the
case in XIX century English army which fought practically all of its wars for imperial gain 43.
And more importantly, ordering these conflicting good reasons for action (which would imply
the ordering of goods pursued by the two practices involved) is not even considered to be an
option for the current members of the Wingrave family.
And that is why, I believe, the reasons, that the Wingraves claim Owen has for joining
the army, are actually not valid reasons. Not because they are external reasons, as Williams
would claim, but because they are not good external reasons for action. And they are not good
reasons because they are based on an unresolved tension between conflicting reasons which CEU eTD Collection are considered good by different practices. Moreover, these tensions are not only unresolved,
but also unresolvable in the terms of the Wingrave family tradition, which is unable to resolve
internal conflict. Indeed it embodies the kind of a tradition which is, according to Macintyre,
typical for England of that day and age. It is a tradition which has already become “Burkean”
in the sense that Macintyre uses the term in that it contrasts tradition and reason, stability and 42
43 See Macintyre, Dependent Rational Animals.
See Jock Haswell, The British Army: A Concise History (London: Book Club Associates, 1975.), chapter 5. 26 conflict. “And when a tradition becomes Burekan, it is already dying or dead.”44 Indeed, the
fact that the Wingraves consider it to be equally reasonable to join the army fighting the
Norman invaders, and the army fighting the Zulu tribes in order to take their land, shows that
their family tradition of military honour is unable to deliberate on the goods being p...
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