The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 183)

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In most cases, Yulgok refers to sirhak not as a theory of practical learning, but as a tangible process of functional and fruitful ethic-political actions. It is a method to obtain what he calls practical result and practical achievement. But all of these cannot be chivied unless they are accompanied by “established resolve” and “sincere effort.” Yulgok’s sirhak is focused on the following themes: first, one should have one’s “practical mind” and extend it to seek “practical principles”; second, one puts it into “actual practice”; third, one should deal with “practical affairs and workers”; and finally, one experiences “practical result.” All of these correspond to the Neo-Confucian notion of the term sol and its implications for the Confucian way of life. Yulgok means practical learning in terms of the usefulness and practicality of its ethic-political relevance. The process of attaining a sagely government and society must begin at the top with the ruler’s commitment to learning and self-cultivation. Given such a commitment to the political relevance of Neo-Confucianism, Yulgok criticised the existing social structures and political institutions of the Choson dynasty and, thus, formulated a set of concrete reform measures.

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