Section V. The deepest definition of Youth is, Life as yet untouched by tragedy. And the finest flower of youth is to know the lesson in advance of the experience, undimmed. The question here for discussion is how the intuition of Peace asserts itself apart from its disclosure in tragedy. Evidently observation of the earlier stages of personal life will afford the clearest evidence.
Youth is distinguished for its whole-hearted absorption in personal enjoyments and personal discomforts. Quick pleasure and quick pain, quick laughter and quick tears, quick absence of care, and quick diffidence, quick courage and quick fear, are conjointly characters of youth. In other words, immediate absorption in its own occupations. On this side, Youth is too chequered to be termed a happy period. It is vivid rather than happy. The memories of youth are better to live through, than is youth itself. For except in extreme cases, memory is apt to count the sunny hours. Youth is not peaceful in any ordinary sense of that term. In youth despair is overwhelming. There is then no tomorrow, no memory of disasters survived.
The short-sightedness of youth matches the scantiness of its experience. The issues of its action are beyond its ken, perhaps with literature supplying a delusory sense of knowledge. Thus generosity and cruelty are equally natural, by reason of the fact that their full effects lie beyond conscious anticipation.
All this is the veriest commonplace in the characterization of Youth. Nor does the modern wealth of social literature in any fundamental way alter the case. The reason for its statement here is to note that these features of character belong to all animals at all ages, including human beings at every stage of their lives. The differences only lie in relative proportions. Also the success of language in conveying information is vastly over-rated, especially in learned circles. Not only is language highly elliptical, but also nothing can supply the defect of first-hand experience of types cognate to the things explicitly mentioned. The general truth of Hume’s doctrine as to the necessity of first-hand impressions is inexorable.
There is another side. Youth is peculiarly susceptible to appeals for beauty of conduct. It understands motives which presuppose the irrelevance of its own person. Such motives are understood as contributing to the magnification of its own interests. Its very search for personal experience thus elicits impersonality, self-forgetfulness. Youth forgets itself in its own ardour. Of course, not always. For it can fall in love. But the test of the better nature, so happily plentiful, is that love passes from selfishness to devotion. The higher forms of love break down the narrow self-regarding motives.
When youth has once grasped where Beauty dwells—with a real knowledge and not as a mere matter of literary phraseology in some poetic, scriptural, or psychological version—when youth has once grasped, its self-surrender is absolute. The vision may pass. It may traverse consciousness in a flash. Some natures may never permit it to emerge into attention. But Youth is peculiarly liable to the vision of that Peace, which is the harmony of the soul’s activities with ideal aims that lie beyond any personal satisfaction.
In his brief preface to Adventures of Ideas, Whitehead provides a rare window into how he conceived of his own work. “The three books—Science and The Modern World, Process and Reality, Adventures of Ideas—are an endeavour to express a way of understanding the nature of things…. Each book can be read separately; but they supplement each other’s omissions or compressions” (AI vii). If I am correct, one of the most important concepts in process thought is virtually absent from Whitehead’s magnum opus, Process and Reality. I suggest that the single most important “omission” remedied by Adventures of Ideas is the claim that beauty is the one self-justifying aim of the universe, that “The teleology of the Universe is directed to the production of Beauty” (AI 265). Creativity is in this sense “kalogenic”; it is inherently beauty generating. Though there are notable exceptions, surprisingly few process scholars have recognized and embraced the significance of this claim. Indeed, beauty is notable in its absence from most of the major works on process metaphysics, which tend to focus on Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World and Process and Reality. Perhaps fearing charges of aestheticism, those who do note the centrality of beauty have mistakenly sought either to minimize its significance or to explain it away as metaphorical embellishment.5 The goal of this brief essay is to defend the view that process thought, particularly process ethics, will be more adequate and applicable if it is “re-centered” around the concept of beauty.
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- - Brian G. Henning in RE-CENTERING PROCESS THOUGHT: RECOVERING BEAUTY IN A. N. WHITEHEAD’S LATE WORK