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    This study analyzes the complementary relationship between ecologism and Confucian pro-life-ism, and searches for the basis needed to establish more methodologically and theoretically advanced environmental and life ethics than those found in present times. The selection of ecologism over ecology can be explained by the fact that, unlike the natural science that is ecology, practical assertions and activities related to the preservation of natural and human ecosystems are being carried out under the auspices of the field of ecologism that is rooted in humanities-based reflections. As such, Confucianism, which constitutes one of the traditions of the humanities in Asia, can be compared with ecologism. Although some have maintained that Confucianism is better paired with ecology, most Korean scholars have identified Confucianism with pro-life-ism. This originated from the fact that Confucianism could not be envisioned as having the characteristics of ecologism. Furthermore, this situation also originated from the fact that the cultural and academic contexts behind the development of ecologism differed from the Confucian ones as pertains to the development of the logic of respecting life forms and developing them in an ideal manner. However, as Confucianism and ecologism share common viewpoints and thinking methods, they are deemed to be comparable to one another.


    ecology , ecologism , Confucian pro-life-ism , wigi chihak (爲己之學 learning for oneself) , non-anthropocentrism , anthropocosmism


    The general perception is that the level of environmental destruction faced by mankind has worsened in the twenty-first century. While this may be the result of the emergence of more serious problems, it may also have a lot to do with the expansion and intensification of the awareness of the destruction that has been wrought on the environment. Truth be told, there has been a general increase in the level of awareness of the serious destruction and damage that has been caused to the natural environment. What’s more, the observation that the seemingly endless onslaught of natural disasters is closely related to the damage and destruction of nature has also become prevalent within society. The observation of such phenomena has also produced the perception that a vicious feedback cycle has been formed between nature and humans. How much worse will such phenomena become? Can humans survive these phenomena? In this regard, the general level of uncertainty experienced by humans can be perceived as the root cause of the various doomsday scenarios and prophecies involving environmental disasters that have sprung up.

    In addition to its warped relationship with the natural environment, humans also face another threat to its survival in the form of its own conflicts. Calamities such as the confrontation between the United States and terrorist groups in the Arabic world, the threat of nuclear weapons, and nuclear plant explosions, are factors that may very well threaten the safety of mankind in the future. The well-being of humanity can only be guaranteed when humankind adopts a truly peaceful lifestyle. As such, the improvement of the relationships between nature and humans, and between humans themselves, represents another important task. The realization that the environmental crisis is actually closely related to human relations has led to the spotlight being directed toward humans and society. The recently emerged fields of social and human ecology can be regarded as the result of these perceptions.1

    The hands-on activities designed to protect natural ecosystems and normalize the human ecosystem have progressed to become the modern ecologism rooted in ecology. The ecologism of today has become a key theme in various discourses within academic fields such as literature, sociology, and philosophy. Ecologism has also been criticized from various angles. Thus, although ecologism has become a popular theme in the contemporary era, there remains much room for it be modified and supplemented. In particular, the criticism that ecologism, which is based on esoteric and non-empirical factors, has been used in discourses that appeal to emotion rather than reason2 highlights the necessity, in order for it to actually become a realistic alternative, to conduct many discussions and supplement ecologism.

    As such, if we accept the goals or original objectives of ecologism, then it becomes necessary to carry out discussions on means to complement and further develop ecologism. The author of the present study has observed the emergence of a trend in Korea towards the positive acceptance of ecologism, and towards its combination with traditional philosophies in order to reinterpret such traditional thoughts as ecological thought or ecological philosophy. Some scholars have advanced the need to develop ki-based ecologism based on the traditional Asian notion of ki/qi (氣, energy or force) under which humans and nature are regarded as being one.3 Others have regard Buddhism as the basis for a structure of ecological philosophy that moves beyond ecology, or what can be referred to as Buddhist ecological philosophy.4 As far as Confucian thought is concerned, some have suggested that the environment-friendly or ecological ideas of Confucian scholars should be labeled as ecologism.5 This trend should be seen as part of a wider attempt to introduce traditional philosophy to the discourses within the modern humanities. However, there is a need to carefully discuss this trend and phenomenon from the standpoint of critical opinions of ecologism.

    Criticism of ecologism can be connected to the criticism of ecological thought as a whole. The following can be regarded as some of the most common criticisms of ecologism: First, ecologism is irrational and unreasonable.6 Second, there are no grounds from either a natural science or ecological standpoint to support claims of impending environmental doom. Third, ecologism, which has become a political ideology, boasts no real authenticity.7 These criticisms have emerged as part of the concerns that the rise of ecologism as a political ideology has resulted in its use to obtain economic and political advantages that have no relation with actual ecological problems.

    In addition, such criticisms have also paved the way for discussions that have raised fundamental questions regarding ecology or the ecological paradigm, and discussions on how such obstacles can be overcome. In other words, the establishment of ecology and the ecological paradigm that arose from the criticism of modern anthropocentrism also encompassed elements related to the movement beyond the modern philosophy of enlightenment, or the rationalism that stems from this philosophy of enlightenment. Thus, the expression of this will in the form of movement ecologism took the form of antipathy towards anthropocentric and rational-centered thought.8 However, this trend leaned heavily towards irrationalism and esotericism. This has been identified as the core problem with ecologism. Even though ecologism may overcome the modern philosophy of enlightenment, it remains undesirable to refuse all the outcomes, be they negative or positive, wrought by modernity.9 Therefore, many have suggested that ecologism should focus on eliminating the negative aspects of modern rationality and emphasizing the positive ones.

    Under such circumstances, what method can be used to facilitate the advent of a recent matter of interest, namely the encounter between Confucianism and ecology or ecologism? The fact that the methods used to link traditional thought with ecology or ecologism in Korea have so far been less than perfect raises the necessity to conduct a more in-depth review of this process from an academic standpoint. To this end, this study conducts a comparison between Confucianism and ecologism, and also seeks to identify the correlation between the two. In addition, the structure of Confucian thought regarding nature and humans is also examined from the standpoint of the fundamental or ultimate goals of Confucianism, a process that is followed up by a review of whether such goals are comparable with those of ecologism. It is hoped that based on such an exercise, the elements of Confucianism which can help ecologism, and vice-versa, the aspects of ecologism that can help Confucianism, can be identified.10

    1Eco-feminism emerged based on similar perceptions toward the relationship between man and woman in order to identify the fundamental problems in the man-centered historical contexts and to correct these problems.  2Pak Hyŏnjŏng, “Hans Magnus Enzensberge ŭi saengt’aejuŭi pip’an [Hans Magnus Enzensberge’s criticism of ecologism],” Togil munhak [German Literature] 116 (2010): 140–143.  3Han Myŏnhŭi, “Tongasia ki-saengt’aejuŭi munhwa wa saengmyŏng chonjung [The Qi of East Asia-ecological culture and respect for life],” (accessed May 29, 2011).  4Kim Chonguk, Pulgyo saengt’ae ch’ŏrhak [Buddhist ecological philosophy] Tongguk University Press, 2004.  5Kim Uktong, Han’guk ŭi noksaek munhwa [The green culture of Korea] (Munye Publishing, 2000).  6Hwang T’aeyŏn, “Kŭndae hamnisŏng inyŏm kwa hwan’gyŏng wigi ŭi hamnijŏk ihae [The ideology of modern rationality and the rational understanding of the environmental crisis],” Konggan kwa sahoe [Space and society] 9 (1997): 16–4.  7Pak Hyŏnjŏng, “Hans Magnus Enzensberge ŭi saengt’aejuŭi pip’an [Hans Magnus Enzensberge’s criticism of ecologism],” Togil munhak [German Literature] 116 (2010): 144–145.  8Kim Wŏnjung, “Taeji yulli ŭi an’gwa pak: in’gan chungsimjuŭi esŏ saengt’ae chungsimjuŭi ro ŭi chŏnhwan [Inside and outside land ethics: moving from anthropocentrism to eco-centrism],” Hyŏndae yŏngŏ yŏngmunhak [Modern English Literature] 54–1 (2010): 10–16.  9Hwang T’aeyŏn, ibid.  10For more on this kind of discussions, refer to Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong ed. Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans (Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions Publications, 1998).


    Regardless of the subject being examined, the criteria for criticism should always be established based on specific viewpoints and contexts. In the present study, ecologism is approached from the standpoint of Confucian pro-life-ism. The revision of ecologism from the standpoint of Confucian pro-life-ism has as its goal the identification of the valuable viewpoints and contexts of Confucianism. Confucian thought and tradition can not only be compared with ecologism in the fact that they both teach that human life can be sustainably maintained through a relationship with nature, but also possess the criteria with which to conduct a criticism of ecologism. That being the case, why is Confucianism equated herein with pro-life-ism, a notion that runs contrary to ecologism? Before answering this question, however, this study will focus on whether Confucianism can actually be regarded as pro-life-ism, and, if that is in fact the case, what pro-life-ism and its fundamental elements are.

    Pro-life-ism, which is defined as one of the characteristics of Confucianism, is established herein as a response to ecologism. At the same time, it is a notion that emphasizes the characteristics of Confucian thought which can be used to overcome the limitations of the various forms of ecologism that have taken root in the current era. Confucian pro-life-ism differs from Paul Taylor’s bio-centrism,11 which advocates the ethical attitude of respecting nature and in-dividual life forms. This study defines such Confucian characteristics as pro-life-ism.

    Fundamentally, Confucianism established the notion that all the life forms in the universe were governed by the principle of heaven and earth.12 It set up a philosophical structure under which the life of humans and all the beings in the universe were linked together under one system.13 Confucianism maintained that the extinction of individual life forms should not affect the permanent existence of the species, and as such, human life reached its highest value when it contributed to the perpetuity of the human species.14 Confucianism stressed that humans, and in particular saints, played an essential role in maintaining the perpetuity of life. In accordance with this idea, Confucianism structured the perpetuity of life forms based on the notion of three elements: heaven, earth and humans (天地人).15 In this regard, advocates of Confucian pro-life-ism adopted the belief that humans, and in particular saints, played a pivotal role in the pursuit of the nurturing and harmony of all living beings.

    This perception of Confucianism from the standpoint of the notion of pro-life-ism is employed herein to emphasize the differences with ecologism. The main differences between Confucian pro-life-ism and ecologism can be summarized as follows: First, rather than seeking to analyze or perceive the ecosystem, Confucian pro-life-ism identified the ecosystem’s ability to perpetually maintain the life of all beings, including humans, as the ultimate goal. Second, contrary to ecologism which asserts that humans can only become aware of the ecosystem when they remove the modern anthropocentric mentality that pro-motes their convenience and benefits, Confucian pro-life-ism emphasized the fact that peace within the ecosystem and the succession of life within the universe cannot be achieved without humans being at the center of this process. Third, unlike ecology and ecologism which have focused on changing people’s view of the world, Confucian pro-life-ism sought to bring about this goal by changing the very existence of life forms through self-cultivation (修身). The highlighting of these differences should not be construed as belief in the completeness of Confucian thought. Rather, these can be regarded as serving as the criteria with which to examine the problems of ecologism, as well as the complementary aspects between the two.

    Various branches of ecologism derived from the ecological viewpoint or ecological thinking,16 and having a hands-on approach to the actualization of an ecological life, have emerged in the contemporary era. Nevertheless, the measures implemented by ecologism to actualize the ecological lifestyle have mainly revolved around the stance that it is necessary to bring about fundamental change in the social, economic, and political order. However, with regard to the issue of where the fundamental change in the social, economic, and political order should originate from, the majority of the advocates of ecologism have focused on the need to bring about a change in how people view the world. In this regard, the manner in which ecologists have gone about trying to change people’s world view has been criticized in some circles. The ecologists established the hypothesis that the destruction of the ecosystem would eventually result in the extinction of mankind. Critics of this hypothesis have pointed out that as the extinction of mankind due to the destruction of the ecosystem has never been, nor can it be, scientifically proven, such claims are in fact little more than irrational and esoteric prophecies.17 However, even scientists cannot provide clear answers as to whether such hypotheses will come to pass or not. This point exhibits the lack of rationality and objectivity that plagues ecologism. Furthermore, the acceptance of these non-scientific prophecies runs the risk of reversing the rational academic spirit cultivated by mankind during the modern era. Ironically, the ecological doomsday predicted by advocates of ecologism runs the risk of decreasing their field of study’s objective rationality.

    Advocates of ecologism focus on changing the existing worldview by implementing various activities and programs. The priority is to develop and persuade the people to accept an enlightened ecological worldview. This includes using methods to change people’s perceptions such as providing a rationally understandable worldview and fundamentally appealing to humans’ rational thinking. Such methods can be persuasive as long as they are not combined with ecological doomsday scenarios. For example, an emphasis on the phenomenon of icebergs melting in the North Pole can help raise awareness of the problem of global warming. In Korea, a growing emphasis has been drawn within society over the dark shadow cast by rapid growth, namely the destruction of the natural environment.18 However, the logic of searching to overcome such problems by identifying anthropocentrism as the main cause of the destruction of the natural environment may be difficult to accept. Above all, viewed from a logical standpoint, doubts can be raised as to whether ecologists’ lifestyles or their very existences can truly be fully removed from anthropocentrism, that is non-anthropocentric or physiocentric in essence. In addition, when viewed from the standpoint of fundamental perceptions, ecologism must be included as an anthropocentric thought. As such, calls for the adjustment of the role of humans would be more frank and reasonable than attempts to bring about the removal of anthropocentrism.

    Then, how should the role of humans be adjusted? The adoption of an ecological world view can be identified as the first step which ecologism must take in order to achieve concrete effects. Such a transformation can only be successful when people’s attitudes towards life are changed and they feel comfortable with the ecological lifestyle. In this regard, the current state of ecologism-related academic discussions can be described as one in which there has been a lack of discussions of this point and of the organization of detailed implementation programs. In this sense, while discussing changes in objective conditions, ecologism has in reality remained at the stage of cherishing the very simple belief in bringing about change to the main actors. That being the case, isn’t it necessary to discuss measures of innovatively changing not only the thinking method of the main actors, but also their lifestyle? Doesn’t the success of an ecological strategy ultimately rest on the ability to change the thinking method of the main actors and to change their attitudes and lifestyle? What measures can be implemented to ensure that such changes in attitudes and lifestyles become permanent? Advocates of ecology and ecologism appear to have given little consideration to these questions. This can be construed as the main reason why this study introduces a logical extension, in the form of a Confucian vantage point, namely pro-life-ism, as a viable alternative.

    Such formulation of issues is also connected to the shortcomings of ecologism or ecology that can be observed from the standpoint of Confucianism. Hans Magnus Enzensberge defines ecological problems as an imbalance and lack of functionality between all the species found in the organic cycle linking together nature and human society.”19 At the current point, these problems will not be resolved even if anthropocentrism is removed. The ecological reality should be explained based on precise factor analysis and periodic variables.20 Human’s are the ones who must play the core role in correcting the imbalance and lack of functionality affecting this organic cycle structure. Although other life forms are also involved in this process, humans must play the decisive role. To this end, there is a need to change humans’ attitudes toward life or to change human beings as a whole. Changing human beings means to change their essence through Confucianism-based self cultivation or ritual learning. More to the point, this can be understood as fundamentally changing the systemic cycle of the patterns of humans’ awareness and physical actions through self-cultivation.

    11Kim Chonguk, Pulgyo saengt’ae ch’ŏrhak [Buddhist ecological philosophy] (Dongguk University Press, 2004), 102–105.  12The Book of Changes [周易], “天地大德曰生, 生生之謂易,” in 繫辭上.  13For example, Zhang Zai’s viewpoint expressed in the Ximing [西銘, Western Inscription].  14Kaji Nobuyuki, trans. Kim T’aejun, Yugyo ran muŏsin’ga [What is Confucianism]? (Chiyoungsa, 1996), 31–33. Confucianism was regarded as the religion of life.  15The Doctrine of the Mean [中庸], “惟天下至誠 爲能盡其性 能盡其性 則能盡人之性 能盡人之性 則能盡物之性 能盡物之性 則可以贊天地之化育 可以贊天地之化育 則可以與天地參矣,” in chap. 22.  16Wikipedia: The varieties of ecologism include ecologism, ecological romanticism, deep ecology, cultural eco-feminism, social eco-feminism, ecological rationalism, social ecologism, eco-socialism, eco-terrorism, and anti-growth.  17Pak Hyŏnjŏng, ibid.  18Examples include the objection to the Lee Myung-bak (Yi Myŏngbak) Government’s Four Rivers Project and the lawsuit filed against the construction of the KTX tunnel through Mt. Ch’ŏnsŏng on behalf of a rare breed of salamander found in the Mt. Ch’ŏnsŏng area.  19Pak Hyŏnjŏng, “Hans Magnus Enzensberge ŭi saengt’aejuŭi pip’an [Hans Magnus Enzens-berge’s criticism of ecologism],” Togil munhak [German Literature] 116: 158.  20Ibid.


    Can Confucianism actually become a useful thought or truth in this new era? Can it contribute to the opening of a new sphere in ecologism, or to the expansion of ecological culture, as postulated in this study? The discussion of the correlation between ecologism and Confucian thought holds implications not only in terms of the task of identifying whether ecological elements can be found in Confucian thought. Rather, it also holds great significance with regards to the development of positive elements of ecologism which can contribute to tasks such as the improvement of the relationship between the natural environment and humans, and between human groups within human society. Furthermore, this will pave the way for Confucianism to contribute to the civilization of the future; however, this can only come to pass when Confucian ecologism-related thought is reorganized to reflect the contemporary context. This can be construed as the reason why, despite the differences in the systems and positions of the two theories, this study searches for the ecological elements found in Confucian thought, defines these ecological elements as Confucian pro-life-ism rather than Confucian ecologism, and explores the complementary nature of the Confucian and ecological theories.

    Few studies have attempted to reinterpret Confucianism from the standpoint of ecology or ecologism. Existing studies have been limited to attempts to identify the elements of Confucianism that are in keeping with the framework of ecologism, and especially that link Confucian thought to ecologism.21 The present study found few papers in Korea which considered the correlation between Confucian thought and ecology or ecologism. Kim Uktong’s work can be regarded as the only one that partially sought to relate and compare Korean Confucian scholars’ thoughts with ecologism.22 Dealing not only with the Confucian thought but also Shamanism and Tonghak (Eastern Learning), Kim Uktong’s study focused on analyzing the types of ecological thought found in Korean tradition. As part of his review of the similarities between ecologism and Confucian thought, Kim labeled Yi Kyubo’s thought as „human ecology’ and that of Sirhak scholars as Silsa kusi (實事求是, Seeking evidence)–based ecologism. Kim’s opinions were based on the perception that Confucianism originated from a nature-friendly world view. However, this attempt fails to alleviate the doubts as to whether Confucianism can really be defined as ecology or ecologism. Despite the similarities, the original positions and goals of Confucian scholars were not identical to those of ecology or ecologism. In other words, Kim’s paper seeks to fit the framework of ecologism into Confucianism, or to derive only the similarities between the two. Thus, this becomes little more than an attempt to forcibly unify two different forms of logic.

    At this juncture, it is essential that we first clarify the fact that Confucianism boasts a theoretical structure that consists of goals and a worldview that differ from those of modern ecologism. That being the case, the effects of theoretical convergence can be ascertained by comparing ecologism with Confucianism. In other words, there is a need, in order to heighten the theoretical completeness and concrete effects of modern ecologism, to engage in the process of discussing the spheres or theoretical elements of Confucianism that can apply to ecologism. Several methods can be employed to attain this goal. First, although the goals and world view of Confucianism are fundamentally different from those of ecologism, one can nevertheless search for the aspects that can be regarded as ecological elements, or promote a mutual dialogue between the two fields. This method can be regarded as the one that has been employed in existing studies. The second method revolves around comparing the goals of ecologism and Confucianism in order to identify measures through which the characteristics of Confucianism that differ from ecologism can be reconciled with the latter. This stands in stark contrast with efforts to simply compare Confucian methods with ecologically-readjusted Confucianism that is rooted in the framework of ecologism. Rather than focusing on revealing the elements of Confucianism that are in accord with ecologism, this second method focuses on the search within the tradition of Confucianism for measures to complement modern ecologism.

    As it has already been discussed above, the former method will be omitted herein. Studies that have employed the second method have to date headed in two directions. The first, which has had much to do with the fact that ecologism needs to activate its imaginative force based on the comprehensive metaphor of the interrelationship between humans and nature, has been that of using the Confucian world view to strengthen the ecological imagination.23 This attempt to strengthen the imaginative force can be regarded as plausible because of the fact that Confucianism not only established a paradigm under which all beings in the world were connected in a more fundamental manner than ecology, but also setup its goals based on more comprehensive and greater subjects than has been the case with those of natural or human ecology. The other direction has been that of studying the hands-on methods employed in Confucianism and then grafting them onto ecologism.

    One important aspect should be considered with regards to the strengthening of imaginative force. Here, imaginative force refers to eventually inducing con-crete actions rather than mere thinking. Inducing concrete actions means to bestow a fundamental relationship and order to the links between life forms and humans and between humans themselves, and then making them live under such relationships and order. Therefore, the strengthening of imaginative force is meaningful only when it is connected to the strengthening of the power of execution. As such, when viewed from an academic standpoint, any attempt to compare Confucianism with ecology, or even to apply Confucianism to ecology, in order to strengthen the imaginative force must be based on a thorough review of even the methods used to accumulate the direct experiences of life which are derived from the Confucian metaphor. Even if it leaves aside the actual hands-on methods employed and the detailed process to bring this about, a theoretical study should at the very least include this element. Only then can imaginative force help to strengthen hands-on activities and change the life of beings.

    It is important to conduct research on how a Confucian pro-life-ism based hands-on methodology can be applied to ecology or ecologism. The hands-on methodology can be divided into two elements. The first is a method of self-cultivation that creates new beings by cultivating individuals’ minds and bodies. The other is the establishment of rites and ceremonies (儀禮) and etiquette (禮義) which can be used to coordinate and unify the everyday behavioral patterns of the members of a group with the Confucian world view. Existing studies have placed great importance on self-cultivation methods.24 While self-cultivation is also regarded as being of great importance in the present study, rites and ceremonies, elements which ecologism is so far devoid of, are herein considered alongside self-cultivation. Self-cultivation methods, as well as rites and ceremonies, were not established in conjunction with ecological goals and notions. Some individuals have pointed out that its transformation into a political ideology has resulted in modern ecologism losing its genuineness. Furthermore, it has also been used as a strategic ideology by the advanced countries to maintain the gap with the developing and underdeveloped countries. As a result, modern ecologism does not look pure. To this end, ecologism’s ability to ensure its genuineness is predicated on its acceptance of the self-cultivation and rites and ceremonies traditionally used as a method to preserve the genuineness of Confucianism and Confucian scholars. The goals pursued by ecologism cannot be resolved simply by changing the worldview or by strengthening imaginative force. Rather, such goals can only be achieved when the customs, habits, individual attitudes and group lifestyle have been altered.

    In addition, some have placed great importance on efforts to reestablish the positive legacy of modern rationality in the contemporary era. However, a discussion that takes into consideration Korea’s traditional, cultural and spiritual contexts should be held as to how the modern rationality of the West should be accepted and developed in Korea. Such consideration can be considered to consist of the careful establishment of the fundamental position which Korea should take with regards to accepting the various kinds of ecologism and life ethics-related arguments in the West, and the conduct of a process that involves the filtering and linking of such debates. The application of ethical methods that are rooted in a different context of thinking and culture than the traditional thought of Korea can be regarded as futile. Moreover, the inherent strangeness of such an exercise may result in complicating its implementation or its acceptance in an academic manner. Therefore, it is essential to criticize and link them from the standpoint of Korean tradition. At this juncture, it becomes necessary to consider the Confucian tradition as the criteria upon which the fundamental position of Korea should be established. In particular, Confucianism, in its capacity as the entity which has organized the human experience in a manner designed to ensure the perpetuity of life, has played the role of fundamental metaphor for con-temporary Koreans.

    There is no way to tell whether ecologism will be the ultimate solution to environmental or human problems in the future. As previously mentioned, if ecologism eventually fails, then the inherent problem in the ecologism paradigm may very well emerge as the cause of this failure. This inherent problem can be defined as the basic position of ecology and ecologism that the mere cognition of the ecosystem will result in hands-on activities. However, Confucianism, and in particular the Neo-Confucianism of the Chosŏn era, did not accept this basic position. Thus, Confucianism can be seen as having observed the relationship of all the elements that lay between human perceptions and actions, or the order of activities within humans, in a much more precise manner than ecologism or ecology, and as having accumulated more experience. Ecology and ecologism inherited the long tradition of Western philosophy, which itself originated from the ancient Greek Philosophy, „cognition leads to practice.’ Both seek to motivate concrete action by strengthening the imaginative force of Western philosophy, establishing and extending such perceptions during the process of implementing ecological movements. However, neither implements an academic approach to the process or methodology of embedding ecological activities in the independent lifestyle and everyday life of humankind.

    On the other hand, cognition and practice are in Confucianism connected to each other in a different type of order. From its vantage point, it is cognition that can be strengthened or become true through practice. Thus, the ability to strengthen cognition is predicated on changing the state of the individual mind and body, or the actual life structure, prior to changing the world view. These are the fundamental differences between Confucianism and ecologism. Viewed from this standpoint, Confucianism can be used to complement ecologism.

    21This phenomenon has not been limited to Confucianism. The same method has been employed in conjunction with all traditional Korean philosophies.  22Kim Uktong, Han’guk ŭi noksaek munhwa [The green culture of Korea] (Munye Publishing, 2000), 163–280.  23For more on this, please refer to Han Myŏnhŭi’s Qi-centered environmental theory (Han Myŏnhŭi, Han’guk ŭi saengt’aejuŭi munhwa wa sasang: Kim Uktong ŭi Han’guk ŭi noksaek munhwa [The ecological culture and thought of Korea: Kim Uktong’s The Green Culture of Korea] (Munye Publishing, 2000), 267.  24Michael C. Kalton, “Extending the Neo-Confucian Tradition: Questions and Reconcept-ualization for the Twenty-First Century,” in Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans, ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong (Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions Publications, 1998), 96–99.


    Confucianism and Ecology was the first study which comprehensively reviewed the relationship between ecologism and Confucianism and showed the latent potential of this field.25 This book featured papers presented during an academic conference held in the United States. Although the book contains various standpoints and contents as a result of the fact that many authors took part in the compilation process, it is a valuable book which deals with the connection between Confucianism and ecology.

    Presented as part of a review of the relationship between Confucianism and ecology, the papers included in this book reflect the theme of the conference, which revolved around subjects which had the same code as ecology or could be understood through ecology. However, these papers did not simply review the elements of Confucianism that meshed with ecology. Based on the premise that the essential orientation of Confucianism is not very different from that of modern ecology, the papers found in this book discussed the contents which ecology could take away from Confucianism. One of the key points is that although ecology should remove the anthropocentrism that has developed as a result of modern enlightenment, the focus should be on changing rather than overcoming or eliminating the spiritual values and lifestyle represented by modernity so as to bring them into line with the orientation of ecological thinking.26 In other words, although ecology criticizes modern civilization, this criticism should be limited to the negative outcomes of modern civilization. Instead, modern civilization’s positive efforts to heighten the sustainability of humans and the earth should be emphasized. Here, the focus should be on the transformation and development of modern values and lifestyles rather than the elimination thereof. In this regard, special attention should be paid to the discussions on the prospects of Confucianism contributing to the process of this transformation and development. Confucianism’s ability to contribute to this process is predicated on the following: first, Confucianism uses a method of promoting harmony with nature that centers on humankind; second, the Confucian notion of self-cultivation is regarded as an important hands-on methodology. It is on these points that this study will now focus.

    Let us begin by discussing the position of promoting human-centered harmony with nature. In his work Beyond the Enlightenment Mentality, Tu Weiming defined this position as that of anthropocosmism. This concept is compared to ecologism’s definition of modern thought and civilization as anthropocentrism in which the main position of ecology is regarded as non-anthropocentrism. Ecology and ecologism regard the evils of modern civilization as having originated from anthropocentric tendencies, and view this in a negative manner. However, Tu Weiming suggested that, in accordance with the philosophical structure of the Doctrine of the Mean (中庸), the achievement of harmony with nature could only be achieved if humans were positioned at the center. His concept was derived from the notion of the three elements of heaven, earth and humans (天地人) found in traditional Confucianism.

    As such, Tu Weiming’s line of reasoning revolves around the search for a method through which to establish the harmonious coexistence structure between nature and humans pursued by ecology that highlights the intellectual tradition of mankind from primitive thought to modern civilization and the contemporary era. Based on the position that Confucianism and ecology have fundamentally dif-ferent starting points and conceptual structures, Tu sought to find the point at which these two theories intersect. Maintaining that the tradition of Confucianism was not clear in terms of relating meaning to ecology, Tu adopted the position that it was necessary to carry out the task of clearly identifying the correlations between the two theories.27 Compared to Korean scholars who hastily derived ecological elements from Confucian thought, Shamanism, and Tonghak (Eastern Learning) and defined them as the ecology of Confucianism or Shamanism, or who searched for the relationship and similarities between Buddhism and ecology, which was then defined as Buddhist ecophilosophy, Tu’s attitude can be regarded as being very prudent and rational.

    In addition, Tu also stressed the fact that the spiritual legacy of modernity contains many virtues which should be maintained and developed in the contemporary era, as well as in the future. For example, rationality, freedom, equality, human rights, and distributive justice28 are regarded as virtues which even ecological thinking designed to move beyond the modern intellect should accept and further develop. Such values have resulted in humans being positioned at the center of human thought and judgment in the modern era. These values also played a great role in the improvement and reform of the conditions of human life from the modern era onwards. That being the case, should this be taken to mean that modern people who accept ecology, which possesses an ecologically reorganized world view and ecological attitude towards life, should eliminate all of these values from their lives? If we define ecologism as the removal of anthropocentrism, then does this mean that we must also get rid of all these values and the modern lifestyle? Ecology and ecologism do not have any appropriate answers to these questions. Thus, although ecology and ecologism identify humankind as the main practical actor, they cannot grant him an appropriate status within their world view. Further, although humans are the main actors in practical activities, ecology and ecologism must endlessly deny the central status of humanity, and push the latter, which is regarded as one part of nature, to the margins.

    All actions must inevitably be carried out by humans. Even though ecologism refuses anthropocentrism, the role of humans remains very important for the simple reason that such refusal is in fact implemented by humans themselves. As ecologism seeks to create beings that are different from modern humans, it therefore inevitably grants an important role to humans when it comes to the protection of nature. For ecologism to actually be successful, it must bring about a change in human’s thinking and practices, and further, change human’s very lifestyle. Attempts to bring about such changes have taken the form of the actualization of eco-community life.29 This cannot be brought about without the existence of humans and the roles assigned to them. Nevertheless, the notion of non-anthropocentrism found in ecologism is from a conceptual standpoint set up in such a manner that inevitably pits it against modern anthropocentrism. This results in cases of conspicuous hostility toward anthropocentric culture and civilization.

    However, this can also take the form of an inherent self-contradiction. In order to move toward concrete and persuasive practices, this rigid framework of perception must be removed. A good example of this can be found in the standpoint of the Norwegian scholar Arne Naess who has been regarded as the founder of deep ecology. Arne Naess’ t-type community can be regarded as one that experiences and emphasizes the great self (大我) by combining humankind with nature.30 The notion of the great self and petty self (小我), which was shared and developed in the Confucian and Daoist Schools in Asia, is a logical frame-work that makes it possible to unify all life forms, and further the universe, around humans. In other words, this notion is based on creating order and harmony between all life forms in a manner that revolves around humans. The development of ecologism is predicated on a reconsideration of methods that do not accept humans as the main actor, or that adhere to a non-anthropocentric standpoint in order to avoid falling into the trap of anthropocentrism, and this despite the fact that the actual practices needed to ensure coexistence within the ecosystem should also come from humans. This can be regarded as shining the light on the blind spot evident in the dichotomous thought structure of the Western world, and on the rigid epistemological limitations that can only logically gain persuasive power when this element is overcome.31

    Second, let us discuss how the Confucian theory of self-cultivation should be applied to ecologism. This can be regarded as the method of moving from the petty self to the great self. At the same time, it lies at the center of the method of harmonizing and maintaining the flow of life within a universe in which humans are positioned at the center. This position is one that has already been argued by Michael Kalton. Kalton regarded the theory of self-cultivation as a means to control and reflect on the internal desire of human beings and reviewed the possibility thereof. In particular, Kalton interpreted the notion of principle (理) found in Neo-Confucianism as a type of evolutionary theory within which principle reflects the system used to maintain the life of all the beings within the universe and heightens the correlations and complexity of the life forms.32 Let us go into further detail on this topic in the following section.

    25Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong ed. Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans (Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions Publications, 1998).  26Tu Weiming, “Beyond the Enlightenment Mentality,” in Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong ed. (Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions Publications, 1998), 3–9.  27Ibid.  28Ibid., 19.  29Yang Haerim, “Saengt’ae minjujuŭi wa saengt’ae kongdongch’ejŏk sayu [Eco-democracy and the concept of eco-community],” Hwan’gyŏng ch’ŏrhak (Han’guk Hwan’gyŏng Ch’ŏrakhoe) 10 (2010).; Cho Chŏngok, “Isangjŏk saengt’ae chuŭijŏk chayŏn’gwan e taehan ch’ŏrhakchŏk in’ganhakchŏk hwan’gyŏng yullijŏk koch’al: togil sangt’ae kongdongch’e ŭi ye [A philosophical, human, and environmental ethical consideration of the ideal ecological view of nature],” Ch’ŏrhak kwa hyŏnsanghak yŏn’gu (Han’guk Hyŏnsanghakhoe) 25 (2005).  30Mun Sunhong, “Pullip wi ŭi sasang: kŭnbon saengt’aehak ŭi ch’angsija Arne Naess [The philosophy of a blade of grass: Arne Naess, the creator of deep ecology],” (accessed May 29, 2011).  31Gregory Bateson, trans. Pak Chidong Chŏngsin kwa chayŏn [Mind and nature: a necessary unity] (Kkach’i, 1990), 112–151.  32Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong ed. ibid., 85.


    Confucianism is a philosophy that incorporates various countenances. Therefore, although Confucianism was originally rooted in interests and goals that are different from ecologism, it can nevertheless be compared with ecologism, and a discussion of its complementarity can be held. Furthermore, Confucianism possesses the conceptual mechanisms needed to heighten or even exceed the correlation that exists with ecologism. One example is principle. While principle is originally one, it exists in various beings. This can be interpreted as a notion that encompasses the biocentric egalitarianism pursued by ecologists, especially deep ecologists.33 However, no Confucian scholars believed that the goals of Con-fucianism could be achieved solely through cognition of principle. Therefore, the belief that the ecological world view can lead to normal and sincere practice can, when approached from the standpoint of Confucianism, be criticized. While cognition can be regarded as a starting point, this must also be accompanied by an experiential process that involves practice. In other words, to achieve clearer and more precise cognition one must develop experiential perceptions through practice. This can be regarded as the Confucian method of true understanding (眞知). Confucianism separates true understanding from knowledge based on hearing and seeing (聞見知), and maintains that true knowledge cannot be achieved without a combination of knowledge and practice. This can be identified as the reason why the Confucian theory of self-cultivation that seeks to promote true understanding can contribute to ecologism.

    However, Kalton’s discussion of the Confucian theory of self-cultivation is limited to self-introspection at the epistemological level. This can be regarded as the result of the failure of Confucianism to consider the conceptual or methodological ecosystem related to the organization of the theory of self-cultivation. The Confucian theory of self-cultivation was closely related to the methodology of the study of the mind (心學) that prevailed during the era of Neo-Confucianism. In this regard, there is no denying that Confucianism is closely related to the methods through which introspection (内省) is brought about. Nevertheless, the development of the conditions for introspection is not an easy task. While one of the criteria for introspection is principle, which in turn is secured from the internal mind, ritual and ceremonial regulations also constitute important criteria. As it is in keeping with the objective norms known as rites (禮), the notion of principle should be perceived not only from the standpoint of the internal mind of a person, but should also be actualized in one’s life within the external world. Thus, based on a concerted structure that involved both principle and rites Confucianism viewed thinking and practice, or motivation and result, as being in accord with one another. Confucianism also viewed the process of changing from a lower to a higher state of correspondence between principle and rites as being made possible by self-cultivation. In other words, self-cultivation is regarded as a methodology to organize the internal mind and external world into a system where the mind and body is harmonized with principle and rites.

    Furthermore, are principle and rites a simple cultural device which can be temporarily regulated by humans? Or are they a device through which, based on the consideration of the general evolution and changes within nature, the role of humans can be appropriately granted and regulated? These questions cannot be easily answered. Be that as it may, such a cultural device must be based on abundant experiences and knowhow accumulated over a long period of time, much as is the case with the principles and rites accumulated in ancient China and subsequently diffused to Asian countries. However, at the current point in time in which interest has been focused on the problems within the ecosystem, rites become an especially important tool through which to establish the norms needed to coordinate and optimize the relationship between nature and humans and to achieve social integration. If by ecological problems we mean the imbalance and lack of functionality between all the species under the organic cycle system that combines nature and human society as Hans Magnus Enzensberge has pointed out, then it becomes very important to establish a ritual device, for example, Confucian rites, which can be used to reform individual and group life, including everyday life, towards a nature-friendly environment, or which can reorganize the patterns of individual and group behavior. The circulatory system linking together nature, humans, and society should move beyond its current characteristics of environmental destruction and conflict-laden relations and towards the actualization of the virtues of reconciliation and coexistence based on the establishment of ritual devices and ritual practices.34

    However, one can also identify other reasons why the introduction of a ritual device such as Confucian rites should be considered. Rites can be regarded as a device that respects the law of nature and produces an individuality that pursues the state of mean (中庸) and central harmony (中和) rather than one which produces an individuality in which humans’ conquest or control of nature is perceived as being natural. This is connected to the Doctrine of the Mean, which states that it is possible to harmonize and develop all beings in the universe centering on humankind by achieving central harmony. Furthermore, the principle of pursuing the harmony and development of all beings through the achievement of the central harmony of human nature is fundamentally embedded in rites. Thus, rites can clearly be perceived as a normative principle through which to simultaneously appropriately control35 and satisfy human desire. Moreover, this normative principle can be used to properly cultivate humankind,36 and to establish an awareness of frugality as a more virtuous deed than extravagance. Finally, rites represent the essence of the heavenly principle (天理) and the ceremony and rule (儀則) of human affairs.

    In addition, rather than simply preventing the destruction of nature, rites constitute a device that can alter the organization and reproduction of nature in a nature-loving and life-protecting manner. This can be likened to the claim made by Gregory Bateson that it is impossible to expect that a crime can be eradicated simply by punishing the criminal act.37 A crime can refer to a specific action labeled as a „crime,’ or to parts of this action. It is an error of basic logic to regard that all crime can be eradicated from this world by continuously punishing criminal behavior or parts of such criminal behavior. A crime refers to the method in which a certain behavior is formed. As such, the reorganization of the method through which criminal behavior is formed becomes the way to eradicate and prevent crime.38 Similarly, ecologism must focus on whether it should limit itself to ending behavior that destroy ecosystems, or try to reform the method through which such behavior is formed. It goes without saying that the second option represents a more desirable one. To this end, Confucianism may represent not only an important foundation through which to successfully entrench this method, but also a prototypical methodology. Put differently, the actualization of ecologism in Korea can be brought about by actively highlighting the use of Confucianism as a self-modification system which can modify the lifestyle (including both thinking and practice) of modern nature-destructive society. Of course, this should be predicated on the bringing of Confucianism into line with life in the contemporary era.

    That being the case, the method of self-cultivation based on principle and rites, or the so-called Neo-Confucian notion of wigi chihak (爲己之學, learning for oneself) should be regarded as a method to establish balance and harmony as the center of humans’ efforts to establish a mutual prosperity structure with other life forms. Although the tradition of wigi chihak originated from the Confucianism of the pre-Qin era, it was strongly emphasized under Neo-Confucianism, and in particular within the Cheng-Zhu School (程朱學). This took the form within Chosŏn of a learning structure called Sage Learning (聖學) that emphasized cultivating the mind and body in a balanced and harmonious manner based on internal introspection and rites. True understanding and actual practice (實踐), as well as the fathoming of principle (窮理) and strenuous effort (力行), were also emphasized as being essential in order to achieve wigi chihak. This methodology is aimed at forming the everyday behavioral pattern of humans, and ultimately, at leading the change in beings, and also includes the sound organization and entrenchment of the functions of internal emotions such as feelings, prudence and will that emerge within the internal mind of humans, as well as the general types of human behaviors that constitute the external expression of these emotions. Here, the notion of wigi chihak can be regarded as being best suited to form this methodology. The reinterpretation of the method of wigi chihak in a contemporary manner and its combination with adjusted rites and principles will make possible humans’ achievement of harmony based on the three elements of heaven, earth, and human.

    Furthermore, wigi chihak constitutes an important methodology with which to achieve the goals of Confucianism, which regards life as being important and promotes the perpetuity of life. As evidenced by the ethics regarding the mutual prosperity of all life forms in the universe found in the Western Inscription (西銘) section of Yi Hwang’s Ten Diagrams of Sage-Learning (聖學十圖), the development of the notion of Confucianism as pro-life-ism and its ability to complement ecologism is predicated on the cultivation of humankind as the main actor in establishing a structure of harmony and mutual prosperity. Although this differs from ecologism, which adopted non-anthropocentrism, advocates of ecologism should actively consider and in-corporate this line of reasoning.

    In addition, the inherent problem of ecologism identified at the beginning of this study, namely its doomsday epistemology, is in fact related to the lack of flexibility found in the epistemological traditions of the West. On a more fund-amental level, it is the result of the rigid perception of the phenomenon of life and systems. Considered from the standpoint of evolutionary theory, there is no concrete proof that the doomsday epistemology emphasized by ecologists will hit the earth’s life system or that it can even be regarded as a simple logical hypothesis. Rather, it becomes essential to pay attention to the fact that the earth has its own self-modification system39 to preserve life forms. Viewed from the dynamic standpoint of Confucianism, more attention should be paid to the view of change with continuity (變通) best explained by the concepts of circulation (循環) and kungch’ikpyŏn pyŏnch’ikt’ong (窮則變 變則通, when out of means, seek change. Then opportunities will come). This implies that the life structure of the earth possesses a complicated and refined self-modification and restoration capability that is well beyond the imagination of ecologists, and exposes an attitude which is contrary to the groundless and extreme doomsday hypothesis advanced by the ecologists.

    33Ibid.  34For more on ritual devices and ritual practices, please refer to Hitoshi Imamura and Shinsuke Imamura, 儀禮のオントロギ-人間社會を再生産するもの [Rites and ceremonies used to reproduce the ontology of human society] (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2007), 31–36.  35The Book of Rites [禮記], The term minfang [民坊] found in the section of the same name refers to the normative device used to control human desire.  36Xun Zi [荀子], The chapter entitled “Theory of the Proprieties [禮論] states that rites are the norms through which humans achieve cultivation.  37Gregory Bateson, trans. Pak Chidong, Chŏngsin kwa chayŏn [Mind and nature: a necessary unity] (Kkach’i, 1990), 152.  38Ibid.  39Gregory Bateson, ibid, 130.


    This study sought to develop a complementary relationship between ecologism and Confucian pro-life-ism. There are various ecological thinking methods, and the direction in terms of the application of such methods has yet to be concretized. In Korea, discussions on connecting ecologism with traditional thought have been activated in the field of literature, ethics and philosophy. However, no discussions related to Confucianism have yet to be actively carried out. Discussions on Confucianism and ecologism have not been actively carried out at the global level. The book entitled Confucianism and Ecology is considered herein as being of academic value. This book includes in-depth discussions on applying Confucian notions to ecology and ecologism. To this end, the present study was prepared based on this book. Furthermore, this study attempts to relate the aspects of Confucianism which can contribute to contemporary society to the ecologist movement.

    The present study selected ecologism rather than ecology as the subject to be compared to Confucianism. This is because while the latter constitutes a natural scientific theory, ecologism seeks to heighten the imaginative power and practices of humans. Ecologism has yet to be fully introduced in Korea, with only a few books and studies having been published. Furthermore, no clear analysis of the ecological practice movement has to date been conducted. This clearly shows that Korean society features different contexts than those found in Western society. That being the case, this study attempted to criticize and overcome the logical holes and practical weaknesses of the general trend of ecologism towards non-anthropocentrism or biocentrism based on the framework of Confucian pro-life-ism. In addition, this study also sought to find a method to combine the notion of wigi chihak, which was further deepened as part of the Confucian tradition of Chosŏn, as well as the methodology of the Study of Rites, with ecologism. This study can be used to extend and deepen the complementary relationship between ecologism and Confucian tradition through further detailed and broadened considerations.

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