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Hobbes's Artifice as Social Construction

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The paper argues that Leviathan can be interpreted as employing a constructionist approach in several important respects. It takes issue with commentators who think that, if for Hobbes man is not naturally social, then man must be naturally unsocial or naturally purely individual. First, Hobbes's key conceptions of the role of artifice and nature-artifice relations are identified, and uncontroversially constructionist elements outlined, most notably Hobbes's conceptualisation of the covenant. The significance of crucial distinctions in Leviathan, between the civil and the social, between science and philosophy, between mankind's nature and the human condition, is developed. A constructionist reading of the argument of Leviathan is then advanced. The interpretation focuses on the contribution of nature-artifice relations, and of Hobbes's notion of civil philosophy, in understanding the critical issues of the state of nature and individual subjectivity. This reconstruction of the meaning of the text highlights the necessarily social character of human life in Leviathan, expressed in the way that the social' gives meaning to the 'natural', as well as because for Hobbes we live in a mind-affected world of perception and ideas. Leviathan can be interpreted as, in particular, a political social construction, because both social and individual identity logically require the social order and arrangements that only a strong government can supply. The social world, in Leviathan, cannot exist prior to the generation of a political framework, in civil society, the commonwealth, and law.

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