Santa Fe Tutor Raoni Padui Discusses His Debut Book

July 13, 2023 | By Eve Tolpa

Padui, the author of Hegel and Heidegger on Nature and World (2023), says he is drawn to the titular philosophers because “they want to incorporate all objects of study as a part of philosophy and not to simply cut off a certain segment of knowledge from other segments of knowledge.”

Santa Fe tutor Raoni Padui’s first book, Hegel and Heidegger on Nature and World, was released in April 2023 by Lexington Books. Padui has an MA and a PhD in philosophy from Villanova University and has taught at St. John’s since 2013. In the following Q&A, Padui discusses the two philosophers and touches on how the holistic approach taken by both is mirrored by the St. John’s Program.

Santa Fe tutor Raoni Padui

Do both Hegel and Heidegger define “world” and “nature” in the same way?

Yeah, the terms more or less solidify in the 17th century; previously “world” was really tied to cosmological questions within the natural sciences. After Kant, world becomes more of a subjective concept; it isn’t as tied to cosmology. It becomes a term for what, eventually, the humanities will come to study. The domain of human history becomes tied to the world, whereas nature pertains primarily to the domain of the natural sciences. Following the revolutions of the natural sciences in the 17th century, nature becomes primarily devoid of the human.

Hegel and Heidegger are both responding to this bifurcation of terms that perhaps used to mean the same thing, but they don’t want that dichotomy to remain. They want to somehow find a way to reconcile the two, so that philosophy isn’t just a humanistic discipline but still has contact with nature.

Is that what’s referred to as “the wound of modernity”?

Yes. Eventually we come to inhabit two different worlds; we come to inhabit both nature and the world.

Hegel has this metaphor of us having an amphibious condition in modernity, where, on the one hand, we are these natural beings, and we can investigate natural beings with the methods of natural science. On the other hand, we are these humans that inhabit a meaningful world, and we can study that from a different perspective.

But he doesn’t feel comfortable with us inhabiting these two worlds. He wants to basically say that we live in one in the same world and we need to find a way to no longer be amphibians.

Do Hegel and Heidegger propose any strategies for healing that wound?

The book is really an attempt to situate Hegel and Heidegger in relationship in relation to that problem, and to see that they offer very different resolutions to the problem.

Hegel really wants to reconcile the two, to make us live in one and the same world. He calls this domain “the Idea,” where both spirit—which is the human historical world—and nature can both be parts of that. Whereas Heidegger thinks that the modern natural sciences have led us so far astray that we need to rethink everything from the ground up. Heidegger is much more radical in that way.

My goal in the book is not to side with either of them, but simply to lay out these two very divergent options and say that these are maybe the two strongest options we have for that resolution, but they go in opposite directions.

What might those two directions look like, practically speaking? Listening to you talk about this dichotomy, I immediately think of the climate crisis.

Heidegger uses this technical term Gestell to describe the way in which humans relate to nature now: primarily as a resource to be used. The world is just a bunch of objects that we can use for human consumption, and humans too become human capital for human consumption. He thinks that it’s become so pervasive that we have to rethink our relationship to being itself entirely—that there’s no social engineering our way out of the situation, because the problem is the social engineering way of thinking.

When humanity does experience some sort of collective shift in perception, how does that get put into motion?

Personal transformations are clearly possible, right? You can reorient your relationship to nature, but Hegel and Heidegger are world historical thinkers, and they are very much interested in shifts at a societal level. They are also historical thinkers in that they have come to see previous shifts as fundamental to what it means to be human. For Hegel and for Heidegger, the modern shift, the way in which we became these entities—beings in a bifurcated world where nature and world are separated—that’s actually an example of one of these very large shifts.

But they’re not things that are forced. It’s fairly mysterious how those shifts happen. Heidegger uses mythologizing language, that there’s a kind of destiny of being that somehow moves us along, that we’re not in control of that happens to us. We can prepare ourselves for them, but we can’t force them in any way, is his position.

How does the idea of free will play into that?

Hegel believes that somehow in the modern project there is a gaining of self-determination on the part of the human, and we are much more in control of our own destiny after the modern period. He believes that we could create institutions and that the state can mediate and solve problems in a way that Heidegger doesn’t believe they can.

Hegel sees history as having a structure where humans become more and more self-determining, more and more free over time. Freedom is built into his account of history, such that we become more and more in control of ourselves and natural resources and the nature of our conditions by means of mediating institutions.

And technology gives us freedom. It’s hard to say what that 19th century thinker would think of climate crisis, for example, but I think he would be much more in favor of engineering a way out of the situation—that we heal our own wounds, as he sometimes puts it.

Is this split real (for lack of a better term), or is it an issue of perception?

What I find interesting about Hegel and Heidegger is that they think it’s both real and unreal. It’s real insofar as it’s something that’s determined the way we behave in the world. If I have some psychological issue, I might think, “Well, do I talk it out with a psychologist, or do I take some drugs to fix the problem?” That’s just an example of one of the many ways in which we treat ourselves as both natural beings, that is, biological entities, and as linguistic and meaning-endowed beings.

Bodies are natural beings. At the same time, we inhabit a meaningful space in language and institutions and in all sorts of other ways. We both inhabit this meaningful world and have a natural condition, and Hegel and Heidegger want to acknowledge that there is something true about that division, but it shouldn’t be seen as unreconcilable.

What is it about this question that appeals to you?

I am drawn to Hegel and Heidegger because they are holistic thinkers; they want to incorporate all objects of study as a part of philosophy and not to simply cut off a certain segment of knowledge from other segments of knowledge. It brings us to the issue of why I’m at St. John’s, because, in many ways, the way we do the liberal arts here is pre-disciplinary, prior to that division.

Insofar as the students spend half of their time investigating mathematics and what might be called the natural sciences in the laboratory as a part of a liberal art, we don’t really experience that bifurcation in the way that you do in the modern university system.

Prior to St. John’s, I experienced that kind of alienation of the disciplines, and I felt like that was a real problem. The book was a way for me to think about that problem and how it came to be historically. St. John’s gives you a way to question all these modern dichotomies, and I think that Hegel and Heidegger do as well.