The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 180)

A strikingly common feature of Yulgok’s major writings is the central theme of “practical learning” as a political ideal. the Songhak chipyo, which was written shortly after his Four-Seven debate with Ugye, is a good example that illustrates his political view that sincerity and sirhak are the ultimate means to sagehood through establishing and enlarging a proper political “ideology of governing people.” The idea of “practicality” (sol) in relation to sincerity and practical learning occupies a central position in Yulgok’s political thought. This appears almost everywhere, including his philosophical memorials, such as the Manon pongsa, Simu yukcho kye (Six-Article Memorial for Current Affairs), and Tongho mundap (Tongho Questions and Answers), are all addressed to the king and demonstrate his ethic-political theory that sincerity and practicality are two fundamental things needed to rectify the mind-and-heart, to rule the country and, thus, to follow the way of the sage-kings. All of these works are quite systematic in style and pragmatic in content. The vocabulary presented clearly reveal Yulgok’s conviction that Neo-Confucian learning must be empirical and realistic for daily ethical, economic, and socio-political matters. Yulgok himself was concerned with practical ideas and interests, rather than theoretical and subjective dimensions of Neo-Confucian, he formulated a political ideology of practical learning in a series of systematic themes and consistent discussions.

To Yulgok’s mind, Confucian learning is not only for “extending knowledge,” but, more important, for putting it into practice in daily life. In his eighth Four-Seven letter to Ugye, Yulgok addressed “three grades of knowledge,” from an epistemological standpoint of Neo-Confucianism: first, those who read “books of sages and worthies,” “simply follow what is said,” and “acquire a literal meaning” belong to the worst group of scholars who attained the “lowest level of knowledge”; sec on, those who read books, get the literal meaning, and “acquire real insights” belong to the next group of scholars who attained “the middle level level of knowledge”; and finally, those who not only “understand the former sages and worthies’ sayings” and “acquire insights from personal experience,” but also “put them into actual daily practice” belong to the best group because they actually attain “the highest level of knowledge by realising the truth to the utmost.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

London United Korean Fan Club

London United Japanese Fan Club