[July 17, 2021]
I’m a fan of Prof Timothy Patitsas’s new book, “The Ethics of Beauty.” It’s a beautiful reading experience. Here’s a mini-review:
What’s the point of Beauty? A practical-minded culture may be sure we need Goodness and Truth, but Beauty seems expendable. A drive around the beltway of any large city shows that, in some settings, it has already been expended. Yet those settings are troubling to us, even if we don’t know why; we feel crushed by the weight of parking lots, drained by the parade of identical little electronics, feeling ourselves to be little and expendable. But, deprived of Beauty, we sicken. We don’t know how to be fully human; we don’t know who we are.
‘The Ethics of Beauty’ is a step toward recovering our true selves. It is, in design, an unusual work, the fruit of conversations between the author and his editor, Mother Nectaria McLees. As in any good conversation, topics ebb and flow and merge with each other, disclosing more each time they appear.
This framework makes the book readily accessible, even for readers with no background in academics; we just listen in on a conversation between good friends. For example, it begins with a consideration of the suffering of soldiers traumatized by war, and the surprising role that Beauty can play in their healing (and has played, in times wiser than ours). That’s not where you might expect a philosophical book on Beauty and Ethics to begin, but it’s an example of how this consistently-intriguing conversation evolves. Dr. Patitsas’s broad knowledge and incisive thinking is accompanied by his humor and humility, making the book a friendly companion.
The entire work grows from the basis of Dr. Patitsas’s lifelong Eastern Orthodox faith, and is enriched by references to the Church’s theology, devotion, and worship. It draws, appropriately enough, from another book on Beauty, the classic of Orthodox prayer called ‘The Philokalia,’ or ‘Love of Beauty’.
Dr. Patitsas has lived with these ideas for so long, and evolved them so beautifully (with the help of Mother Nectaria), that any Christian will find their faith enhanced, and their understanding deepened, by this exploration of the essential role Beauty plays in Ethics.