CONFUCIANISM, KOREAN CONFUCIANISM AND ECOLOGICAL DISCOURSE

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  • ABSTRACT

    Many scholars have sought to find the fundamental causes of the current environmental and ecological crisis in the anthropocentric view of nature and the mechanical view of the world. In this regard, there has been a gradual increase in the number of scholars who, during the process of searching for alternative views of nature and the world, have paid attention to Asian philosophies. In particular, attention has been paid to the view of nature rooted in the unity of heaven and man, organic view of nature, and life-ismbased view of the world. Certain studies have dealt with the philosophies of Korean Confucian scholars such as Yi Hwang, Yi Yi, Hong Taeyong, and Ch’oe Han’gi from the standpoint of environmental ecology. However, the number of such studies remains limited, and the approach employed in such studies has been restricted to the general characteristics of Confucian thought. However, the claim that Confucian thought is fundamentally limited as an anthropocentric ethical philosophy is one that is difficult to refute. The analysis of the ecological discourses within Confucianism and Korean Confucianism should not be limited to the development of alternative ecological thought, but also focus on practical applications such as the establishment of ecological politics and economics, as well as the abstinence of desire.


  • KEYWORD

    Confucianism , environmental ecology , anthropocentric view of nature , view of nature rooted in the unity of heaven and man , Yi Hwang , Yi Yi , Hong Taeyong , Ch’oe Han’gi

  • 1. INTRODUCTION―THE DREAM AND LIMITATIONS OF THE NOTIONS OF ‘ENVIRONMENTAL SOUNDNESS AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT’

    Yangip wich’ul (量入爲出, To spend according to one’s income). I just wrote this down out of the blue because it suddenly came to mind as I started to contemplate this study. This expression is not directly related to the theme of this study. However, it was one that was always affixed to the door of my grandparents’ house in Hahoe Village, Andong. Every year, the piece of paper on which this was written was replaced by a new one that bore the same characters. Of course, I had no idea what it meant, and I did not even pay attention to it during my childhood. However, once I gained some knowledge of Chinese characters (hancha), I began to wonder about the meaning of this expression that was different from the signs reading ipch’un taegil (立春大吉, Great luck on the onset of spring) that were attached to the gate of all the other houses. It was only as a high school student that I finally learned the meaning of the expression, ‘to spend according to one’s income’ from my uncle. Whenever I visit my grandparents’ house, I still find myself looking for this expression. My uncle passed away a few years ago after ninety-three years on this earth. My mother’s family hailed from the P’ungsan Ryu clan, which continued the traditions of the Yi Hwang (1501–1570) School of Learning for some 400 years. My uncle was the director of the Tosan Confucian Academy (陶山書院, Tosan Sŏwŏn) during his latter days.

    Almost half a century has elapsed since Rachel Carson first warned in her book Silent Spring that life forms were being rendered extinct by man. A long time has also passed since John Cobb asked, “Is it too late?” Nevertheless, it feels like discussions on the actual state of the destruction of ecosystems and the environmental crisis have just begun. The deepwater horizon oil spill (or BP oil spill) that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 because of an explosion on a drilling rig brought mass death to the ocean. Another catastrophic disaster occurred after a nuclear power plant exploded in Fukushima, Japan this last spring. Sadly, it is too early to identify this as the biggest disaster of the twenty-first century because there are almost ninety years left before this century will come to a close. Such incidents have also happened in other countries. Currently, the Naktong River Project, which is the biggest civil engineering undertaking since the prehistoric era on the Korean peninsula, is being implemented in the name of ‘environmentalfriendliness’ and ‘Naktong River Restoration,’ not even 1 km away from where I sit as I write this article.

    Faced with food shortages, resources depletion, and environmental pollution, the denizens of the world finally got together in Rome in 1972 to discuss the “Limits to Growth”; meanwhile, “Environmentally Sound and Sustainable Development (ESSD)” began to be emphasized following the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm. This can be regarded as he point in time where a developmental model which addressed environmental problems was adopted. This is a reality and dream which we naturally should seek to bring about.

    It is clear that this ‘Environmentally Sound and Sustainable Development (ESSD)’ was a step forward from the reckless development-first principle. However, this line of reasoning was endowed with a certain overconfidence in the capability of environmental engineering. As is commonly said, one may only begin to think about cleaning up after having made a mess. The current mess created by mankind is clearly one that environmental engineering cannot cope with. This cannot be perceived as a wise approach. A wiser approach would have been to make less of a mess in the first place. Thus, the sustainable development theory is one that is rooted in an optimistic technological theory that revolves around engineering methods, and should be perceived as nothing more than symptomatic therapy. The production of an effective and fundamental cure that represents more than symptomatic therapy is predicated on a solution to environmental and ecological problems that is developed in conjunction with the humanities. Let me point out the two limitations of the sustainable development theory prior to moving on to the next topic for discussion.

    First, although the sustainable development theory has brought environmental and ecological problems into the debate, its focus remains on development. This so-called ‘environment-friendly’ development theory regards development as the top priority, and the ecological and environmental problem as being secondary. Such a theory runs the risk of being employed as logic to justify development. One salient example of this phenomenon is the ‘Four Major Rivers Restoration Project.’ The government has argued that the development of the four major rivers is the only way to restore the natural ecosystem and to develop the economy for local residents. I have emphasized that the four major rivers, especially the Naktong River, should be developed in a manner that takes into consideration not only the natural ecosystem, but also humanistic ecology.1 The Naktong River area can be regarded as the last place on earth where the spirit and soul of Confucianism, which constitutes one of the four civilizations in the world, survives and is cherished. I emphasize once again, “Rivers should flow and the Naktong River should flow like the Naktong River.”

    Second, the sustainable development theory remains based on the anthropocentric viewpoint in that it is centered on the prioritization of man’s exclusive interests at the expense of the environmental ecosystem. Ecological theory is rooted in the perception of man and nature as equal beings. Viewed from this standpoint, any sustainable development theory that seeks to develop and preserve nature based on man’s necessity cannot be regarded as ecological or as having ecological ethics.

    1Hong Won-sik (Hong Wŏnsik) and Lee Sangho (Yi Sangho), “Kyŏngbu taeunha p’ŭrojekt’ŭ wa Naktonggang kaebal e taehan ‘inmun saengt’aejŏgin’ chŏpkŭn [A humanistic ecological approach to the Pan-Korea Grand Waterway Project and Naktong River Development],” Han’gukhak nonjip (Academia Koreana) 36 (2008).

    2. THE ECOLOGICAL DISCOURSES OF ECOLOGY, DEEP ECOLOGY AND CONFUCIANISM

    A group of scholars has identified anthropocentrism as the main culprit behind the destruction of the environment and the ecosystem. These individuals have commonly been referred to as ecologists. They have asserted that all life forms on earth are equal from the standpoint that they all share ‘life.’ While Peter Singer and Tom Regan called for animal liberation, Paul Taylor broke down biocentrism as follows: First, man is a member of a global community to the same extent as all other life forms. Second, all species, including man, are part of an interdependent system. Third, all life forms pursue goodness in their own manner. Fourth, man is not internally inherently superior to other life forms.2

    Deep ecology criticizes the above assertions as examples of individualism, and focuses on the necessity for an ecological philosophy that includes all life forms as well as non-living beings. Arne Naess can be regarded as an ardent proponent of such opinions. Naess identified existing environmental ethics, for example, Gifford Pinchot’s resources conservation and development theory, Garrett Hardin’s lifeboat ethics, as well as Peter Singer and Tom Regan’s animal liberation, as ‘superficial ecological theories,’ and referred to his own ecological theory as ‘deep ecology’. Arne Naess’ deep ecology advocated ‘self-realization’ and ‘biocentric equality’ as the ultimate norms. Here, self-realization refers to the process of gaining awareness of the self through mutual relations with nature; meanwhile, biocentric equality indicates the acceptance of the fact that all life forms are equal members of an interrelated whole, and as such have an equal fundamental value.3

    As such, while tracing the primal causes of the ecological crisis and searching for detailed solutions that reflect such causes, the center of ecological theories has moved from life to ecosystems, and various ecological thoughts, philosophies and ethics have been added to the spectrum. It was during this process that social ecology, eco-Marxism, ecofeminism and ecoanarchism emerged.4 While various ecological discourses were produced, various critical discussions of these ecological discourses were also introduced. For example, the theory of an ‘environmental doomsday’ was criticized as an extreme exaggeration of the impending ecological crisis. ‘Eco-fascism’ was criticized for having not only placed man in a position of absolute equality with other life forms, but for in many instances having subjugated man to other life forms. Meanwhile, ecologism was panned for having become politicized and transformed into an ideology, and was regarded as little more than a self-protection discourse introduced by the economically advanced countries. Viewed from the standpoint of the greater framework, such criticisms of ecological theories can also be regarded as part of the ecological discourse.

    The focus of ecological philosophy and ethics has long been concentrated on anthropocentrism. This is inherently connected to the modern view of the world which has separated man and nature, and also to the mechanical and instrumental view of nature. Consequently, the fundamental and primary cause of the ecological crisis in the contemporary era has been the dichotomous perception of man and nature, namely the anthropocentric, mechanical and instrumental views of nature. As such, the starting point for the resolution of the ecological crisis of today, as well as the fundamental solution to such problems, should be based on the removal of the dichotomous perception of man and nature and the actualization of the oneness between man and nature. Although various kinds of ecological philosophies and ethics have been suggested, the majority have been unable to move beyond this line of reasoning. Let us look at Pak Imun’s assertions.

    Under the anthropocentric view of the world, man as a species is first separated from all the other objects as well as all animals in a metaphysical manner. Second, man is superior to all other beings. Third, man is the most precious being. Four, man has the right to rule, possess, operate, and use all other beings as tools or materials with which to actualize his satisfaction. In other words, man’s rule over nature is metaphysically justified.5

    Tu Weiming6 has focused on the modern anthropocentrism brought about by enlightenment, and concludes that the enlightenment mentality, which he identifies as the most dynamic, reformative, and potent ruling ideology in the history of mankind, had become the basis for the modern Western world.

    Tu Weiming asserted that any attempt to establish an ethical or value system which is fundamentally different from or has no relation with the enlightenment mentality rooted in anthropocentrism, progress, reason, and individualism would inevitably draw harsh criticisms and sardonic laughter. Tu emphasized,

    To this end, after having pointed out that the origin of this enlightenment mentality was the ethical and religious traditions of the modern Western world symbolized by Greek Philosophy, Judaism, and Christianity, Tu presented a detailed analysis of what we should do.

    We can thus see that Tu Weiming has advocated the need to conduct a comprehensive review of not only modern Western thought, but also of traditional schools of thought which have become the roots of modern Western thought such as the Hellenism of ancient Greece, Judaism, and Hebraism of Christianity.9 Under these circumstances, many ecologists have searched for alternative views of the world that could be used to overcome the dichotomous and dualistic worldview of the West. In this regard, some of them have focused on Asian philosophies, which contain an abundance of unitary, organic and relational contents. Encouraged by the fact that Western ecologists were paying attention to Asian philosophies, East Asian scholars also joined in the ‘East Asian discourse’ that emerged at the end of the twentieth century.

    The translation by scholars who majored in ethics of Western ecology books that began in Korea10 in the 1980s spurred the implementation of ecological studies in a full scale manner, which in turn led to the publication of study results.11 In this regard, the most outstanding work can be identified as natural scientist Chang Hoeik’s philosophy of ‘global life’.12 Chang’s global life theory identified all individual life forms on earth as ‘co life’ and the entire life phenomenon as global life. Moreover, Chang asserted that all life forms on earth were organically related to each other as part of a huge life mass governed by infinite relations. Han My?nh?i not only expanded on Chang’s theory of global life, but also introduced the ki-ecological theory.13

    Here, two important joint studies can be identified. One is the compilation of ten sessions of lectures carried out from May to June 1993 by the Buddhist Academy for Ecological Awakening.14 The preface to this book states,

    As such, we can deduce the goals of the book. This particular work includes ten sections dealing with topics such as Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism, the Hinduism of India, as well as Tonghak (Eastern Learning) and other traditional philosophies of Korea.

    The other is the publication from 1996 to 1998 by the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University of collections of works based on the theme ‘world religions and the ecosystem.’ One of these collections was a work entitled Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans.15 In the book’s preface, the editors Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong referred to Confucian ecology as being characterized by

    This book is composed of sixteen papers written by seventeen scholars, including Tu Weiming, William Theodore de Bary, Rodney L. Taylor, Michael C. Kalton, Joseph A. Adler, Young-chan Ro and Cheng Chung-ying. The work includes discussions on Pre-Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism, as well as on theoretical and practical themes. For instance, Young-chan Ro’s paper, “Yulgok ujuron ŭi saengt’aeronjŏk amsi tŭl (The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Yulgok),” a work related to Korean Confucianism, is included in the book.

    At the “Korean Confucianism and Ecology” conference held at Keimyung University from June 2 to June 4 2011, the relationship between Korean Confucianism and ecology was discussed. All in all, nine papers were presented as well as two keynote speeches. This was the first conference concentrating on ecological discourse from the standpoint of Korean Confucianism.

    2Joseph R. Desjardins, trans. Kim Myŏngsik, Hwan’gyŏng yulli [Environmental ethics: an introduction to environmental philosophy] (Chajak namu, 1999), 237.  3Ibid, 353.  4For more on the classification of ecological groups, please refer to Mun Sunhong, Saengt’ae wigi wa noksaek ŭi taean [The ecological crisis and green alternatives] (Nara sarang, 1992) and Han Myŏnhŭi, Hwan’gyŏng yulli [Environmental ethics] (Ch’ŏrhak kwa hyŏnsilsa, 1997).  5Pak Imun, “Noksaek ŭi yulli [Green ethics],” Noksaek p’yŏngnon 15 (1994), 47.  6Tu Weiming, “Kyemongjuŭi chŏngsin ŭl nŏmŏsŏ [Beyond the enlightenment mentality],” Yuhak sasang kwa saengt’aehak [Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans]. ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong (Harvard University Press, 1998), trans. O Chŏngsŏn (Yemoon sowon [Yemun sŏwŏn], 2010): 59–63.  7Tu Weiming, “Kyemongjuŭi chŏngsin ŭl nŏmŏsŏ [Beyond the enlightenment mentality],” Yuhak sasang kwa saengt’aehak [Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans], ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong (Harvard University Press, 1998), trans. O Chŏngsŏn (Yemoon sowon [Yemun sŏwŏn], 2010): 60.  8Tu Weiming, “Kyemongjuŭi chŏngsin ŭl nŏmŏsŏ [Beyond the enlightenment mentality],” Yuhak sasang kwa saengt’aehak [Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans], ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong (Harvard University Press, 1998), trans. O Chŏngsŏn (Yemoon sowon, 2010), 63.  9In her work, The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, Lynn White argues that Judaism and Christianity’s emphasis on the transcendence of God over nature and on man’s rule over nature has had the effect of devaluating the value of nature, which in turn has allowed nature to become a resource that can be used for utilitarian purposes. Tu Weiming, “Kyemongjuŭi chŏngsin ŭl nŏmŏsŏ [Beyond the enlightenment mentality],” Yuhak sasang kwa saengt’aehak [Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans], ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong (Harvard University Press, 1998), trans. O Chŏngsŏn (Yemoon sowon, 2010), 26.  10Examples include: Murray Bookchin, trans. Mun Sunhong, Saeho saengt’aeron ŭi ch’ŏrhak [Toward an ecological society]; Reiner Grundmann, trans. Pak Manjun and Pak Chun’gŏn, Marŭk’ŭsŭjuŭi wa saengt’aehak [Marxism and ecology]; Peter Singer, trans. Kim Sŏnghwan, Tongmul haebang [Animal liberation]; Hans Jonas, trans. Han Chŏnsŏn, Saengmyŏng ŭi wŏlli [The phenomenon of Life: toward a philosophical biology]; Joseph R. Desjardins, trans. Kim Myŏngsik, Hwan’gyŏng yulli [Environmental ethics: an introduction to environmental philosophy].  11Examples include: Pak Imun, Munmyŏng ŭi wigi wa munhwa ŭi chŏnhwan [The crisis of civilization and cultural transition], Munmyŏng ŭi mirae wa saengt’aehakchŏk segyegwan [The future of civilization and the ecological view of the world], Hwan’gyŏng ch’ŏrhak [Environmental philosophy]; Mun Sunhong, Saengt’ae wigi wa noksaek ŭi taean [The ecological crisis and green alternatives]; Han Myŏnhŭi, Hwan’gyŏng yulli [Environmental ethics]; Chang Hoeik, Sam kwa onsaengmyŏng [Living and global life]; Chin Kyohun, Hwan’gyŏng yulli [Environmental ethics]; Lee Chinu (Yi Chinu), Noksaek sayuwa ek’otop’ia [Green thought and ecotopia]; Ku Sŭnghoe, Saengt’ae ch’ŏrhak kwa hwan’gyŏng yulli [Ecological philosophy and environmental ethics], Ecophilosophy; Ch’oe Chongdŏk, Hamkke hanŭn hwan’gyŏng ch’ŏrhak [Environmental philosophy for all]; Kim Myŏngsik, Hwan’gyŏng, saengmyŏng, simŭi minjujuŭi [Environment, life, and deliberative democracy]; Kim Sea-jeong (Kim Sejŏng), Wang Yangmyŏng ŭi saengmyŏng ch’ŏrhak [Wang Yangming’s philosophy of life].  12Chang Hoeik, Sam kwa onsaengmyŏng [Living and global life] (Sol, 1998).  13Han Myŏnhŭi, Hwan’gyŏng yulli [Environmental ethics] (Ch’ŏrhak kwa hyŏnsilsa, 1997).  14Buddhist Academy for Ecological Awakening, Tongyang sasang kwa hwan’gyŏng munje [Asian Thought and Environmental Issues] (Mosaek, 1996).  15Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong (Harvard University Press, 1998).

    3. WHAT DO CONFUCIANISM AND KOREAN CONFUCIANISM HAVE TO TELL WITH REGARDS TO THE ECOLOGICAL DISCOURSE?

    Several ecological discussions centering on Confucianism have been organized. However, few ecological discussions revolving around Korean Confucianism have to date been carried out. In his paper presented during the Fifth Keimyung International Conference on Korean Studies held in June 2011, Kim Seajeong (Kim Sejŏng) revealed that the ecological discourses related to Korean Confucianism started during the late 1990s, and that approximately twenty papers on the topic were produced during this period. Kim pointed out that most of these studies were focused on the Neo-Confucian scholars Yi Hwang and Yi Yi as well as the Sirhak (Practical Learning) scholars Hong Tayong and Ch’oe Han’gi. This focus on such a limited number of Confucian scholars has rendered the tasks of attempting to identify the characteristics of Korean Confucianism pertaining to ecological discussions very complicated. In this regard, it is particularly difficult to separate the Neo-Confucianism of Yi Hwang and Yi Yi from Chinese Neo-Confucianism. The development of an ecological discourse that is limited to Korean Confucianism can also be perceived as being complex when we consider that Sirhak scholars also fall within the sphere of Confucian thought. Let us first discuss about Confucianism in general, therefore.

    In the past, Western ecologists’ examination of Asian thought mostly revolved around the Hinduism and Buddhism of India and the Daoism of China. However, Confucian researchers and scholars have now followed in their footsteps in search of the ecological thought embedded in Confucianism. The main Confucian texts which they have paid attention to include the Book of Changes (周易), the Doctrine of the Mean (中庸) and the Mencius (孟子). Eco-philosophical interpretations have been focused on Zhang Zai’s Qi philosophy, Cheng Hao and Wang Shouren’s theory of wanwu yiti/manmul ilch’e (萬物一體, all things are of one body). At some point, the Li-Qi theory (理氣論, theory of principle and force/energy) in Neo-Confucianism was interpreted in an ecological philosophical manner.

    However, one important obstacle to the perception of Confucian thought in an ecological manner was the concept of the moral man embedded in Confucianism. Leaving aside Xun Zi’s view of the division between heaven and man (天人分二), we find that while Mencius argued that what separated man from other beings such as animals was morality, Zhou Dunyi of the Northern Song dynasty regarded man as the most intelligent of all beings. Meanwhile, in accordance with the inherent inclination, completeness, substance, and remnants of qi, Neo-Confucianism also granted the discriminative status to man. In fact, these can be regarded as the fundamental characteristics and viviparous limitations of the moral philosophy known as Confucianism.

    However, the problem is that ecology, and in particular deep ecology has taken issue with anthropocentrism. This has forced individuals who intended to depict Confucian thought in an ecological manner to struggle to explain the anthropocentric characteristics of Confucianism. While some developed their own logic with regards to the issue of anthropocentrism, others attempted to provide an indirect explanation by instead evoking the other philosophical characteristics of Confucianism. Examples include those who attempted to interpret Confucianism from the standpoint of the organicism theory (有機體論), relational theory, life theory, and the theory of wanwu yiti/manmul ilch’e. Let us take a closer look at these assertions.

    First of all, the majority of scholars and researchers have accepted that Confucianism possessed anthropocentric tendencies. Nevertheless, they have stressed the fact that the anthropocentrism found in Confucianism was different from that embedded in Western modernity. To this end, Kim Pyŏnghwan stated the following.

    Kim Pyŏnghwan asserted that not all anthropocentric philosophies caused ecological crises, and that the anthropocentric tendencies in Confucianism differed from the anthropocentrism embedded in Western modernity, the latter of which was regarded as having caused the ecological crisis. In other words, by establishing a confrontational relationship between man and nature, the anthropocentrism embedded in Western modernity made possible the establishment of a perception whereby nature was viewed in an instrumental manner. Meanwhile, although also based on anthropocentric thought, Confucianism pursued a unitary relationship between man and nature as its ultimate ideal. Kim pointed out that as Confucianism did not view nature in an instrumental manner, it did not entail the inevitable destruction of the ecosystem. Some of the examples of Confucian anthropocentrism identified in this particular work were the notions of ‘great man and virtuous man (大人君子)’ and ‘thought of three essences (三才思想: heaven, earth, and humans)’ taken from the Book of Changes, the concept of the fulfillment of one’s nature (盡性) found in the Doctrine of the Mean, and the notion of love for all creatures (愛物) found in Mencius.

    Tu Weiming also regarded Confucian humanism (人本主義) as being in essence anthropocosmic rather than anthropocentric. Tu claimed that the selftranscendental anthropocosmic spirit of Confucianism was connected to the unity of heaven and man (天人合一論), and that communications between communities were carried out based on the discovery of the correlations between man and nature and between heaven and man. Tu’s detailed outlook was based on Wang Shouren’s theory of wanwu yiti/manmul ilch’e.17 The assertion that Confucian anthropocentrism differed from the Western variant in that it did not regard man and nature as contradictory entities was one that was also shared by modern scholars such as Hwang Kapy?n,18 Ch?n Py?ngsul19 and Yi Tongh?i. Despite being laden with anthropocentrism, Yi Tongh?i nevertheless labeled Confucian thought and its inherent respect for nature as humanistic ecologism, and pointed out the eco-philosophical elements of Confucianism, particularly Neo-Confucianism.20

    Some of the scholars that had reservations about the anthropocentric characteristics of Confucianism instead emphasized the organic characteristics of Confucian thought. The emphasis on the organic characteristics of Confucianism was suggested as a view of nature or the world that could stand up as an alternative to the mechanical view of nature embedded in Western modernity, a view which as mentioned above has been pointed out as the cause of the ecological crisis. In the same context, the relational view of the world was suggested as the alternative to the ontological view of the world and the life-ism view of the world as an alternative to the material view of the world. They believed that the organic, relational, life-ism-based view of the world found in Confucian thought was in keeping with the ecological view of the world. The spread of such views of the world would inevitably reduce man’s exclusive and discriminative status.

    As part of his analysis of the discussion of the relationship between man and nature found in the Book of Changes, Ch’oe Yŏngjin focused on the oppositeness of yin and yang (陰陽對待) rooted in the view of others (他者觀). Ch’oe identified the oppositeness of yin and yang as both a relational theory and as an essential preposition designed to ensure the existence of the self vis-à-vis others.21 Therefore man and nature were formed in accordance with an oppositional rather than confrontational relationship. Ch’oe further claimed that the relationship between man and nature was not the only oppositional one, but rather all beings in the universe existed in oppositional relationships with one another. Moreover, he went on to add that all beings within the universe are embedded in each being. As support for his argument, he introduced the example of the kwe (卦, hexagram) found in the Book of Changes.

    This can be regarded as a typical organic and relational theory-based interpretation of the Book of Changes. However, Ch’oe stressed the fact that this organic and relational philosophy was not only exhibited in the Book of Changes, but also—as evidenced by the notions of loyalty and forgiveness (忠恕), the principle of measuring square (絜矩之道), and interconnected realizations of self and of all others (成己成物)—included in the general characteristics of Confucian thought. Kwak Sinhwan also interpreted the Book of Changes from the standpoint of organic theory, and concluded that this work greatly influenced future generations.

    Kwak Sinhwan also interpreted the Book of Changes from the standpoint of life-ism theory.24 In fact, such an interpretation of the Book of Changes had already been made by previous generations of scholars such as Thome H. Fang (Fang Dongmei). Fang claimed that concepts found in the Book of Changes such as endless vitalization (生生不已) pointed at no death or extinction in the universe, but rather endless generation and change. As such, the Book of Changes regards nature and all the beings in the universe as living things, which become a huge living organism in and of themselves. While nature moves around alongside the self and the two are interconnected to one another, each possesses its own intrinsic value. Fang asserted that the life-ism-based view of nature found in the Book of Changes was further expanded upon during the Song Dynasty.

    The Song dynasty established the structure of moral metaphysics by adding the Qi-philosophy, Daoist and Buddhist thought, as well as the Book of Changes, in particular the cosmic theory found in the Yi Chuan/Yi Zhuan (易傳, The Annotation) section, to Confucius and Mencius’ theory of the moral man. The establishment of such moral metaphysics was begun in earnest by Zhou Dunyi, who sought to interpret all beings as part of one overarching system. Many philosophers attempted to interpret the infinite, discriminative world or universe as a complete and holistic structure. For example, while Shao Yong interpreted the universe based on numbers (數), Zhang Zai did so based on qi (氣). Meanwhile, Cheng Hao interpreted the universe based on benevolence (仁), and Cheng Yi from the standpoint of li (理). Finally, Zhu Xi of the Southern Song dynasty established moral metaphysics that were based on the Li-Qi theory by combining Zhang Zai’s Qi-philosophy with Cheng Yi’s Li-philosophy.

    These philosophers’ metaphysics share the commonality that all beings are unable to escape from the net of existence, and this regardless of whether this net is structured based on numbers, qi, benevolence, li, or li-qi. Viewed from this standpoint, it is clear that the organic and relational view of the world found in Confucianism was completed during the Song dynasty. Meanwhile, the life-ism based view of the world can be perceived as having already been embedded in Confucian thought. For example, it is difficult to regard qi in Zhang Zai’s Qi philosophy as nothing more than a physical or material being. This is also evident in Zhang Zai’s notion of wuwo tongbaolun/mul-a tongp’oron (物我同胞論, the self and objects share the same origin). Here, we can see that rather than limiting himself to interpreting the universe as a simple organic and relational theory based on qi Zhang Zai interpreted the world from the standpoint of life-ism. Such an approach can also be found in Cheng Hao’s notion of benevolence. For Cheng, benevolence was akin to a vitality or will to live which all beings possessed. Moreover, benevolence could be expanded to become a theory of the cosmos. As such, Confucianism established a more complete organic and relational view of the universe and nature during the Song dynasty. In particular, it encompassed the contents of life-ism theory that revolved around the notions of qi and benevolence. The Yangming Learning (陽明學) that held sway during the Ming dynasty helped to further strengthen the Neo-Confucian characteristics that prevailed during the Song dynasty, which eventually resulted in the advent of the theory of wanwu yiti/manmul ilch’e.

    Wang Shouren said, “All the beings in the universe are made up of the same body (一體) as man, … wind and rain, dew and lightening, the sun, moon and stars, animals and trees, mountains and rivers, earth and stone are all originally of the same body as man.”25 In addition, Wang pointed out, “A great man (大人) refers to a person who regards all the beings in the universe as one body, … The reason why a great man can regard all the beings as one body is not because he forces himself to regard things in such a manner. Rather, it is the original benevolence in his mind that becomes one body with all beings.”26 Wang went on to add, “The petty man (小人) separates the self from others based solely on outer appearances.”27 Wang’s theory of wanwu yiti/manmul ilch’e is supported by the theory of circulation of one qi (一氣流通). As such, this indicates that there is responsiveness (感應) between man and all beings.

    Thus, Wang Shouren’s theory of wanwu yiti/manmul ilch’e can be seen as having borrowed from the theory of the unity of heaven and man (天人合一) found in Pre-Confucianism, and from the organic and relational view of the universe and nature that prevailed during the Song dynasty, in particular Zhang Zai’s qi-based wuwo tongbaolun/mula tongp’oron and Cheng Hao’s life-ism based view of the universe. Kim Sea-jeong summarized Wang Shouren’s wuwo yiti/mul-a ilch’e (物我一體, oneness of objects and man) as follows.

    Kim Sea-jeong asserted that as all beings in the universe possessed life and constituted a huge organism, man should, in accordance with the principle of qinmin/ch’inmin found in Yangming Learning, extend the scope of affection to include all beings. Yangming Learning, which advocated that all beings originated from one body, can be regarded as a life-oriented ecological view of the world. Such interpretations of Wang Shouren’s theory of wanwu yiti/manmul ilch’e from the standpoint of ecological philosophy can be found in the work of Tu Weiming, Ch’oe Chaemok29, Kim Kyobin,30 and Han Yew?n31.

    Let us now take a look at the ecological discourse from the standpoint of Korean Confucianism. As previously mentioned, few studies have to date been conducted in this field. As many of these studies have been focused on only a few figures, the number of studies which approach Korean Confucianism from the standpoint of ecological philosophy, is actually even smaller. This, on the other hand, will make today’s presentations and discussions even more significant. We will herein separate Korean Confucianism into the Neo-Confucian group centering on Yi Hwang and Yi Yi, and the Sirhak (practical Learning) group centering on Hong Taeyong and Ch’oe Han’gi. As Kim Sea-jeong examined this very theme during the Keimyung conference on Korean Confucianism and Ecology, special attention will be paid herein to his detailed analysis of this theme.

    First, Han My?nh?i analyzed Korean Neo-Confucianism from the ecological standpoint. Han divided the main ecological issues into 1) the connectivity of nature, 2) the non-instrumental value of nature, 3) ecological limitedness of society, and 4) the ideological concretization program. As it incorporated issues 1) and 2), Han classified Korean Neo-Confucianism as falling under the category of ‘passive ecologism.’32 For his part, Lee Dong-hee (Yi Tongh?i) asserted that while Yi Hwang’s theory of principle (主理論, churiron) could be regarded as having anthropocentric tendencies, Yi Yi’s theory of vital energy (主氣論, chugiron) could be viewed as having physiocentric or nature-centered tendencies. Nevertheless, unlike the anthropocentrism of the West and the physiocentrism of ecologists, these were based on ‘humanistic’ and ‘organic’ ecologism.33 Chang S?nggu34 and Yi Chongho35 also analyzed Yi Hwang’s study from the standpoint of ecological philosophy. These scholars maintained that Yi Hwang’s theory of the unity of heaven and man included both aspects of anthropocentrism and physiocentrism, and sought to identify the ecological potential of an organic view of the universe based on the notion of manmul ilch’e. Yi Kiyong,36 Yu S?ngs?n37 and Young-chan Ro38 conducted eco-philosophical analyses of Yi Yi’s study. While Young-chan Ro identified Yi Yi’s theory of the universe as a ‘value-neutral theory of the cosmos,’ he maintained that Yi Hwang’s theory of the universe was in fact an ‘anthropocentric-based theory of the cosmos.’ Ro pointed out that because Yi Yi regarded the relationship between man and universe as one between subject and subject rather than that between subject and object, Yi Yi’s thought had the potential to develop into universal ecology. As such, these researchers, based on the fact that it contained fewer anthropocentric tendencies than Yi Hwang’s school of thought, sought to identify the eco-philosophical potential in Yi Yi’s school of thought.

    In terms of the ecological leanings of Hong Taeyong, special attention should be paid to the study conducted by Pak H?iby?ng. 39 Pak identified Hong Taeyong’s thought as being ecological in that his notion of equality between man and objects (人物均) was one that viewed man and nature as being equal. On the other hand, few studies have been conducted on the main symbol of the Sirhak (Practical Learning) School, Ch?ng Yagyong.40 Kim T’aeo’s study can be regarded as a leading example of an eco-philosophical study conducted on Ch’oe Han’gi’s thought.41 Kim focused on the eco-philosophical implications of Ch’oe Han’gi’s thought from the standpoint of the theory of ki-circulation (運化), which he linked to his viewpoint on educational philosophy. Thus, we can see that there have only been a few studies on the ecological discourses within Korean Confucianism, and that these have in essence failed to move beyond the scope of Chinese Confucianism.

    16Kim Pyŏnghwan, “21 segi yuhak ŭi kwaje wa chŏnmang–yuhak sasang kwa saengt’ae munje rŭl chungsim ŭro [The tasks of Confucianism in the twenty-first century and the outlook thereof–with a special focus on Confucian thought and ecological problems],” Chungguk hakpo 42: 391.  17Tu Weiming, “Kyemongjuŭi chŏngsin ŭl nŏmŏsŏ [Beyond the enlightenment mentality],” Yuhak sasang kwa saengt’aehak [Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans] ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong (Harvard University Press, 1998), trans. O Chŏngsŏn (Yemoon sowon, 2010), 78–79.  18Hwang Kapyŏn, “21 segi yuga ch’ŏrhak ŭi paljŏn panghyang–hwan’gyŏng yulli rŭl chungsim ŭro [The developmental direction of Confucian philosophy in the twenty-first century—with a special focus on environmental ethics],” Tongyang ch’ŏrhak (The Society for Asian Philosophy in Korea) 12 (2000).  19Chŏn Pyŏngsul, “Tongyang ch’ŏrhak ŭi in’gan chungsimjŏk hwan’gyŏng yulli [The anthropocentric environmental ethics of Asian philosophy],” Chungguk hakpo (The Korean Association of Chinese Studies ) 47 (2003).  20Lee Dong-hee (Yi Tonghŭi), “Han’guk Sŏngnihak ŭi hwan’gyŏng ch’ŏrhakchŏk sisa [Environmental philosophical implications of Korean Neo-Confucianism],” Tongyang ch’ŏrhak [The Society for Asian Philosophy in Korea] 13 (2000).  21Ch’oe Yŏngjin, “Chuyŏk esŏ ponŭn in’gan kwa chayŏn ŭi kwan’gye—tajagwan ŭl chungsim ŭro [The relationship between man and nature as viewed through the Book of Changes],” Tongyang ch’ŏrhak (The Society for Asian Philosophy in Korea) 13 (2000): 15.  22Ch’oe Yŏngjin, “Chuyŏk esŏ ponŭn in’gan kwa chayŏn ŭi kwan’gye–tajagwan ŭl chungsim ŭro [The relationship between man and nature as viewed through the Book of Changes],” Tongyang ch’ŏrhak (The Society for Asian Philosophy in Korea) 13 (2000): 16.  23Kwak Sinhwan, “Yuhak ŭi yugich’ejŏk ujuron [The Confucian theory of the organic cosmos],” “Kisul chŏngbohwa sidae ŭi in’gan munje [Mankind in the age of technology and information],” (Hyeonamsa, 1994).  24Kwak Sinhwan, “Chuyŏk esŏ ŭi chayŏn’gwan [The view of nature contained in the Book of Changes],” Tongyang sasang kwa hwan’gyŏng munje [Asian thought and environmental problems] (Mosaek, 1996).  25Wang Shouren, Chuanxilu [傳習錄, Instructions for practical living], 黃省曾錄, 274.  26Wang Shouren, Collection of Wang Yangming’s Studies [王陽明全集], vol. 26, 大學問, 968.  27Ibid.  28Kim Sea-jeong, “Wang Yangmyŏng ŭi ch’inminsŏl e taehan saengt’aeronjŏk chŏpkŭn [The ecological approach contained in Wang Yangming’s theory of ch’inmin],” Tongyang ch’ŏrhak (The Society for Asian Philosophy in Korea) 11 (1999): 272.  29Ch’oe Chaemok, “Yangmyŏnghak kwa hwan’gyŏng yulli [Yangming learning and environmental ethics],” Tongasia munhwa wa sasang (East Asian Culture and Philosophy) vol. 1 (East Asian Forum on Cultural Diversity, 1998).  30Kim Kyobin, “Yangmyŏnghak kwa saengmyŏng sasang [Yangming learning and life-ism],” Tongyang ch’ŏrhak 13 (The Society for Asian Philosophy in Korea, 2000).  31Han Yewŏn, “Yangmyŏnghak ŭi manmul ilch’egwan esŏ pon saengmyŏng yulli [Life ethics as viewed through the perception of manmul ilch’e found in Yangming Learning],” Yangming Study 6 (Korean Association of Yangming Study, 2001).  32Han Myŏnhŭi,Tongasia munmyŏnggwa Han’guk ŭi saengt’aejuŭi [East Asian Civilization and Korean Ecologism] (Philosophy and Reality Publishing, 2009), 49–52.  33Lee Dong-hee, “Han’guk Sŏngnihak ŭi hwan’gyŏng ch’ŏrhakchŏk sisa [Environmental philosophical implications of Korean Neo-Confucianism),” Tongyang ch’ŏrhak (The Society for Asian Philosophy in Korea) 13 (2000).  34Chang Sŭnggu, “T’oegye sasang ŭi saengt’ae ch’ŏrhakchŏk chomyŏng [Highlighting Yi Hwang’s ecological philosophy],” T’oegye hakpo (The T’oegye Studies Institute) (2001).  35Yi Chongho, “T’oegye Yi Hwang ŭi yugich’e ujuron kwa saengt’ae sasang [Yi Hwang’s theory of the organic universe and ecological thought],” Han’guk hanmunhak yŏn’gu [Journal of Korean Literature in Hanmun] (Society of Korean Literature in Hanmun) (2004).  36Yi Kiyong, “Yulgok ŭi chayŏn ihae wa ch’ŏnin kyoyŏ [Yi Yi’s perception of nature and the relationship between heaven and man],” Tongyang ch’ŏrhak (The Society for Asian Philosophy in Korea) 13 (2000).  37Yu Sŏngsŏn, “Yulgok simnon e kŭn’gŏhan hwan’gyŏng yulli ŭi mosaek [Searching for environmental ethics bases on Yi Yi’s theory of the mind],” Yulgok sasang yŏn’gu (Association of Yulgok Study) 4 (2001).  38Young-chan Ro (Ro Yŏngch’an), “Yulgok ujuronŭi saengt’aeronjŏk amsi tŭl [The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Yulgok], Yuhak sasang kwa saengt’aehak [Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans], trans. O Chŏngsŏn (Yemoonsŏwŏn, 2010).  39Pak Hŭibyŏng, “Hong taeyong sasang e isŏsŏ mu-la ŭi sangdaesŏng kwa tongilsŏng [The relativity and similarity between nature and the self found in Hong Taeyong’s thought],” Han’guk ŭi saengt’ae sasang [Ecological Philosophy of Korea] (Tolbegae, 1999).  40While Ch’a Sŏnghwan wrote one paper on this subject, it is difficult to regard his paper as constituting a full-fledged ecological discussion. Ch’a Sŏnghwan, “Chŏng Yagyong kyŏnghak sasang i saengt’ae hwan’gyŏng wigi ŭi sidae e chunŭn sisajŏm [The implications of Chŏng Yakyong’s thought regarding the Confucian Classics in terms of the ecological crisis],” Tamnon 201 (The Korean Association of Socio-Historical Studies) (2010).  41Kim T’aeo, “Hyegang sasang ŭi saengt’aejuŭijŏk kyoyuk wŏlli [The ecological education principle contained in Hyegang’s thought],” Philosophy Education (The Philosophy Education Society of Korea) 35 (2008); “Hyegang ŭi taedongnon kwa sot’ongnon kŭrigo kyoyuk saengt’aehak [Hyegang’s theories of great harmony and communication and educational ecology],” Philosophy Education (The Philosophy Education Society of Korea) 41 (2010).

    4. CONFUCIANISM IN THE ECOLOGICAL DISCOURSES

    We have regarded the anthropocentric characteristics of Confucianism as the biggest obstacle to the interpretation of Confucian thought in an ecological manner. In this regard, the interpretation of Confucian thought in an ecophilosophical manner is predicated on the explanation of the anthropocentric characteristics of Confucianism. With an eye towards explaining such characteristics, we reviewed the existing ecological discourse within Confucianism. Only a quick look or common sense is required to conclude that Confucianism is clearly anthropocentric. At the center of this anthropocentrism is the perception of moral man that is embedded in everything from Pre-Confucianism to Yangming Learning. The deep ecologists in the West, ecologists in Asia, and further those who developed the ecological discourse based on Confucian thought, have all identified the anthropocentrism of the modern West as the primal cause of the current ecological crisis. That being the case, the following question inevitably comes to mind: If Confucianism also falls under the category of anthropocentric philosophy, then how can one interpret Confucianism in an ecological manner?

    A group of scholars and researchers have attempted to answer this question. The following can be regarded as a summary of the answers that have been provided to date: the anthropocentrism embedded in Confucian thought differs from that of the modern West. Moreover, while the anthropocentrism in Confucian thought perceives man and nature as existing in an oppositional relationship, that of the modern West, which is based on a dichotomous view, regards man and nature as being governed by a contradictory relationship.

    Meanwhile, other scholars failed to directly deal with the anthropocentric characteristics of Confucianism, preferring instead to focus on its organic, relational, and life-ism-based characteristics. The focus on these characteristics can be explained by their belief that the primal cause of the current ecological crisis has been the mechanical, practical, and physical view of nature that has prevailed in the modern West. These various inherent philosophical characteristics of Confucianism have been identified as philosophical alternatives with which to overcome the ecological crisis. From the same context, researchers involved in the field of Yangming Learning have stressed the fact that this school of thought rooted in the theory of wanwu yiti/manmul ilch’e constitutes an ecological philosophy.

    Let us now review the ecological interpretation of Confucian thought. The first question is that of identifying the problems as pertains to the interpretation of the ecological characteristics of Confucianism. As seen in our review of the work conducted by the relevant scholars and researchers above, Confucian thought clearly includes eco-philosophical contents that have no relation to anthropocentrism. These include the organic, relational and life-ism based view of the world and the theory of wanwu yiti/manmul ilch’e. However, even though Confucianism does contain such philosophical contents and characteristics, this does not mean that it can be interpreted as ecological thought. Confucianism is clearly not a philosophy that was established based on an ecological foundation. In this regard, Pre-Confucianism’s philosophical interest was man and its range of philosophical inquiry was limited to man alone. Thus, the hasty inclusion of Confucian thought in ecologism runs the risk of falling into the trap of Apologetics and Orientalism.

    The biggest obstacle to perceiving Confucianism as ecologism is not anthropocentrism, but rather moralism and the concept of moral man. As those in Asia who have participated in the ecological discourse have asserted, the organic, relational view of nature and the world is a concept that is embedded in Confucianism. Such views of nature and the world were further expanded upon by later generations. For instance, Yangming Learning suggested that the self and all other beings essentially became one body. In this regard, the conclusion can also be reached that moralism and the view of moral man were further expanded upon through such organic and relational views of nature and the world, as well as the theory of wanwu yiti/manmul ilch’e. Efforts to increasingly incorporate ecophilosophical contents in Confucian thought will inevitably lead to more space being occupied by the notion of the moral man, which in turn will result in nature and all beings in the universe having to abandon their status to ethics and man. Once this comes to pass, nature will become nothing more than a personified nature. The development of ecological discourses based on a personified nature which does not possess any intrinsic value is like building a house on sand.

    Another problem which has emerged has been the analysis of the causes of the current ecological crisis and the methodology to overcome it that has been suggested by those in Asia who have participated in the ecological discourses. These individuals have sought to locate the cause of the ecological crisis in the dichotomous separation of man and nature in the West, as well as in the anthropocentrism, instrumental view of nature, and mechanical view of world that stem from this dichotomous separation. To this end, the answers to this problem can be found in the very causes thereof. The ecological crisis can be resolved by altering or outright abandoning these problematic viewpoints. In addition, these scholars have indicated that infallible remedies are already embedded in Asian thought. Of course, such assertions have been the prerogative of those who have sought to excessively oversimplify the prevailing problems and who have been deeply swayed by the tenets of deep ecology.

    Yi Hyogŏl raised the following question with regards to the development of a deep ecology-centered ecological discourse, “If the ultimate cause of the environmental destruction is the dichotomous view of the world and the anthropocentric view of nature under which nature is perceived as a subjected being, then can, even if a long period of time is required, environmental destruction be done away with by establishing a pluralism-based view of the world and a physiocentric view of nature?”42 Kim Pyŏnghwa shared Yi’s opinion.

    Yi Hyogŏl and Kim Pyŏnghwan’s criticism can be regarded as a clear sign of the limitations of the ecological discourses based on Asian thought, and of the need to overcome these limitations. In this regard, Kim Sea-jeong stressed that scholars and researchers in the field of Asian philosophy,

    As such, some of the scholars and researchers in the field of Asian ecology have pointed out that there have been problems with regards to the diagnostic of the ecological crisis and the establishment of countermeasures. Be that as it may, these individuals have also sought in their own studies to bring about an alternative Asian ecological thought. Then, has it become impossible for these Asian ecological discourses to move forward? Should we not move beyond the scope of philosophical discourses? I do not think that is the case. By changing our way of thinking a little bit we can see that the ecological crisis was not only the result of the prevailing world view, but also of a capitalist economic system that values the pursuit of infinite profits and of the capitalist humans who pursue infinite desires under this capitalist economic structure. As such, those engaged in the study of the relationship between the ecological discourse and Asian thought should actively concentrate not only on the development of new and alternative ecological thought, but also on the establishment of ecological politics and economy as well as means to abstain from desire. The ecological discourse has already been pushed to new lengths and depths in the West, and various hands-on activities have been implemented. We should not allow our thinking and activities to be limited by a strict adherence to the tenets of deep ecology.

    Efforts have been made to implement the notions and ideologies that make up Confucian thought in the real world for over 2,000 years. To this end, if ecological ideology does in fact represent the most important value to mankind at the present point in time, then one can in fact use Confucian thought, which has gone through a similar experience, as a means to uncover how such an ecological ideology can be actualized in the reality of East Asia. Furthermore, attention should also be drawn to the ecological views of politics and economics contained in the Confucianism-based ruling structure established in the past. Confucian thought can in particular provide many answers with regards to the issue of how one can live as the owner rather the slave to desire under the current capitalist economic structure in which one desire leads to the advent of another. Of course, this issue should also be addressed with perceptions and means of persuasion that are rooted in an understanding of a contemporary society that is based on a complex mesh of desire rather than rigid moral reprimands.

    42Yi Hyogŏl, “Hwan’gyŏng saengt’ae munje e taehan tongyang ch’ŏrhak ŭi taean [Asian philosophy as an alternative with which to resolve environmental and ecological problems],” Chunggukhak nonch’ong (Chinese Studies Institute) 9–1 (1996): 163.  43Kim Pyŏnghwan, “21 segi yuhak ŭi kwajewa chŏnmang—yuhak sasang kwa saengt’ae munje rŭl chungsim ŭro [The tasks of Confucianism in the twenty-first century and the outlook thereof–with a special focus on Confucian thought and ecological problems],” Chungguk hakpo 42: 381.  44Kim Sea-jeong, “Hwangyŏng yulli e taehan tongyang ch’ŏrhakchŏk chŏpkŭn: yuga ch’ŏrhak ŭl chungsim ŭro [The Asian philosophical approach to environmental ethics: with a special focus on Confucian philosophy],” Pŏmhan ch’ŏrhak 29 (2003).

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