The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 176)

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Practical Learning (Sirhak) as an Ethico-Political Ideal

According to Yulgok, practical learning for “self-cultivation and governing people” must be founded on sincerity. This is, indeed, a vital theme in most of his writings. To understand it, we have to examine his political thought more closely, so that we can determine what kind of practicality it contains and how it relates to his philosophy of ki and self-cultivation, the central theme of his Four-Seven thesis. We should also analyse his political reform ideas in the Neo-Confucian context; this is significant not only because Yulgok took government administration as a serious matter of the Confucian way of life, but also because the Neo-Confucian idea of sagehood is an attainable goal that required a Confucian model of learning, self-cultivation, and socio-political responsibility. It is particularly under this aspect that sagehood become a profoundly ethicopolitical ideal in his Neo-Confucianism.

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