The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Yulgok

By Young-chan Ro

Subjects: Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy
Paperback : 9780887066566, 154 pages, July 1988
Hardcover : 9780887066559, 154 pages, July 1988

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Table of contents


1. The Tradition
2. The Person
3. The Scope and Approach

One. Yulgok and the Neo-Confucian Cosmology and Ontology
1. The Neo-Confucian Understanding of T'ai-chi (the Great Ultimate)
2. The Cosmological Implication of T'ai-chi
3. The Ontological Implication of T'ai-chi
4. Chu Hsi's 'Cosmo-Ontological' Development of T'ai-chi
5. The Non-dualistic nature of the Cosmo-Ontological T'ai-chi
6. Yulgok's Anthropocosmic Vision

Two. Yulgok's Understanding of 'Human Nature' (hsing) and 'Mind' (hsin): Yulgok's Anthropology
1. The Underlying Unity of "Cosmo-Ontology" and Anthropology
2. The Problem of the Study of the Mind
3. Yulgok and the Neo-Confucian Anthropology
a. The Basic Cosmo-Ontological Unity of Man and the Universe in Chu Hsi
b. Chu Hsi's Understanding of the Mind
4. The Discussion of the Mind and Yulgok's Anthropology
5. Yulgok's Phenomenology of the Mind
6. Yulgok's Analysis of the Feelings (ch'ing) and the Mind
a. Non-Duality of "Four Beginnings" and "Seven Feelings"
b. The Relationship of Tao-hsin and Jen-hsin
c. The Ontological Unity of the Feelings: the 'Four Beginnings' and the 'Seven Feelings'
7. The Ontology of the Mind
8. Yulgok's Synthesis of Ontology and Phenomenology in His Theory of Mind

Three. Ch'eng, (Song, Sincerity)
1. Ch'eng in The Doctrine of the Mean (the Chung-yung)
2. Ch'eng in The Great Learning (The Ta-Hsueh)
3. Yulgok's Understanding of 'Sincerity' (Ch'eng)
a. Ch'eng as the Foundation of Epistemology
b. The Function of Ch'eng
4. Ch'eng as the Medium of Cosmic and Moral Force
a. Ch'eng and 'Reality' in a Comparative Context
5. Sagehood and Ch'eng
6. Ch'eng and Establishing the Will
7. The Language of Ch'eng
8. Ch'eng (Song, Sincere Reality) and Yulgok's Pragmatism

Appendix: Yulgok's Pragmatism: Political and Economic Thought
Glossary of Chinese and Korean Words
Selected Bibliography


This book explores the philosophical and religious dimensions of Korean Neo-Confuciansim as expounded by one of the foremost Korean Neo-Confucian thinkers, Yi Yulgok (1536-1584). Yulgok's creative interpretations reformulate some fundamental issues of Confucian philosophy. This book explores the significance of the fundamental assumption which underlies the entire system of Yulgok's Confucian thought. That philosophical assumption is characterized by the author as 'non-dualistic' and 'anthropocosmic'.

It is a unique aspect of Korean Neo-Confucianism which leads to a new way of understanding the Confucian world view and spirituality. This 'non-dualistic' vision sheds a new and critical light on the dialectical framework of thinking at work in Western formulations of understanding the ultimate reality, nature, the universe, and human being. The 'anthropocosmic' vision in this respect will challenge fundamental assumptions of Western theological formulation and suggest a new understanding of human nature and the universe.

A 'non-dualistic' and 'anthropocosmic' interpretation of Yulgok's thought is a fruitful way of approaching the Korean way of thinking and of coming to grips with one Neo-Confucian mode of attaining human self-understanding.

Young-chan Ro is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University.


"The book is clearly, concisely written and discusses complex ideas in an approachable manner. It gives a comprehensive introduction to all major points of Yulgok's thought, placing him within the context of the Neo-Confucian tradition as a whole, as well as his contemporary Korean philosophical environment, while adding an interesting critique from the Western philosophical perspective, based on the work of Heidegger and Gadamer. It also includes much cogent background information on the basics of Neo-Confucianism to assist the general reader." -- Sung Bae Park