This article suggests a new research methodology for Korean Neo-Confucianism. In order to do this, we need first to be clear about the nature of Korean NeoConfucianism in relation to the question of whether it can be legitimately called philosophy in the Western sense of the term. In this article, I shall focus on the following questions: (1) Is there such a thing as world or universal philosophy? (2) Can Korean Neo-Confucianism be considered to be world philosophy? (3) What is the reason for the Western rejection of non-Western thought as philosophy? And (4) what conditions are required for Korean Neo-Confucianism to remain as a science which is understandable to the ordinary man of reason?
I offer a negative answer to (1) for the reason that there is no consensus on the definition of philosophy itself. And if there is no such philosophy, we do not have to be concerned with (2). In relation to (3), I examine Defoort who blames the rejection of the existence or legitimacy of Chinese philosophy on Western chauvinism or ethnocentrism. Unlike Defoort, I consider that the rejection is rather due to Western indifference to, or ignorance of, East Asian traditions of thought. The main contention here is that, although there is no such thing as world philosophy, contemporary Korean Neo-Confucian scholars still need to satisfy a number of basic conditions to make Korean Neo-Confucianism a science worthy of discussion in the future. In answer to (4), I here suggest consistency, validity, and conceptual clarity as such conditions. They are in general called logical elements since they are most commonly found in Western books on logic, but they are in effect “commonsensical” in that they are basic elements required in everyday conversation. It is hoped that the conditions should not be taken as a repetition of a controversy over the definition of philosophy, but simply as a “commonsensical” suggestion to write various traditions of thought in a “commonsensical” way.
Korean scholars seem to accept without any contention that “Korean NeoConfucianism” is part of Korean philosophy, which is composed of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. That is, they regard it as a particular or regional philosophy among many different types of philosophies in Korea. Indeed, although none of the universities in Korea have a department specifically named as a Korean philosophy department, most philosophy departments teach Korean thought under the name of Korean philosophy along with other regional philosophies such as Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, etc. and, also, with many branches of Western philosophy, e.g. epistemology, ethics, metaphysics etc.
Nonetheless, there arises a problem to consider, when one wants Korean thought to be counted as so-called universal or world philosophy and, also, to be taught in philosophy departments, not in Korean/East Asian Studies departments or Religion departments in Western universities. The fact is that Korean thought has “never” been taught as a single subject in any philosophy departments in Western universities. Of course, this does not apply only to Korean thought, but also to various kinds of thought such as Chinese, Indian, Islamic, Slavic, or African thought. They may be partially taught in regional studies programs, but not in philosophy departments in Western universities.2 One interesting fact is that non-Western scholars hold the view that many different types of thought including their own can be called philosophy, whereas Western philosophers hold the view that only their own thought should be and can be legitimately called philosophy.
In reaction to such a tendency, a number of scholars such as Solomon and Defoort ascribe this biased view to Western ethnocentrism or ethnocentric chauvinism for the reason that the criterion or conception of philosophy by which non-Western thought is excluded from philosophy is basically Western.3 It appears that, according to such a criterion, not only Korean thought but also all the other non-Western traditions of thought are not to be counted as philosophy. This suggests that they lack some characteristics which the Western conception of philosophy includes.
In what follows, I shall focus on Korean Neo-Confucianism and examine its current status and methodology of research in relation to the Western conception of philosophy. For this, I shall deal with the following questions: Is there such a thing as world philosophy? What is the reason for the Western rejection of nonWestern thought as philosophy? Can Korean Neo-Confucianism be considered philosophy, and if so in what sense? And what conditions are required for Korean Neo-Confucianism to remain as a science worthy of successive discussion in the future? The main contention made here will be that Korean Neo-Confucianism need not attempt to be world philosophy since there is no such thing, but that it nonetheless needs to satisfy a number of basic conditions such as consistency, validity, and conceptual clarification, to be a science in its proper sense.
2Cf. Kim Yŏng-min (2005), pp. 209–210. 3Solomon (2001), pp. 100–101; Defoort (2001), p. 393; Defoort (2006), p. 629 and p. 633.
It is indeed both a provocative and a sensitive matter to raise the question of whether it is legitimate to call a system of thought “philosophy.” This question is provocative because a refusal to apply the term “philosophy” to the intellectual traditions of some countries will be taken as a deep insult and shock to its people; it is a sensitive issue for the very reason that no one would wish to discuss the matter explicitly in public. The question has something to do with national pride or, rather, with basic human pride. Although the exact definition of philosophy is still controversial, it is clear that philosophy is an activity involving reasoning which is regarded as the most basic and significant characteristic of human beings. Therefore, to claim that a person lacks philosophy is tantamount to saying that he/she lacks reason, which even implies that he/she is non-human or bestial.
However, Defoort explicitly takes up the question about the existence of philosophy in China. In answer to this question, she claims that it is not legitimate to call Chinese thought philosophy because it does not fit the term ‘philosophy’ which is “a Western matter” and “is, and remains, a primarily Western cultural product.”4 In consequence, she concludes that there is no such thing as Chinese philosophy at all. In any case, this is not the first time that a Western philosopher has denied Chinese thought to be philosophy. Defoort says as follows:
In relation to this evaluation of Chinese thought, Chinese scholars have endeavored to show that it is philosophy proper. Among them is a prominent Chinese scholar, Hu Shi ( 胡適 , 1891–1962), who cherished the hope that ancient Chinese thought would be regarded as world philosophy. Defoort tells us that his hope still remains unaccomplished even more than fifty years after his death.
Now, almost a century after Hu first expressed his hope for Chinese thought, we can respond to his speculation with relative certainty: world philosophy has not arisen and is not on the rise. In fact, the situation is much worse: Chinese ancient thought is not even considered “philosophy” by most Western specialists in the field.6
What is the reason for Defoort’s claim that ancient Chinese thought will never be considered as world philosophy? This question calls for an examination of the criterion of world philosophy or, rather, the conditions of the Western conception of philosophy.
As Defoort says, it is true that there is no general consensus on the definition of philosophy, where she derives them from, and why we should agree with her on those conditions.8 It is also undeniable that in many cases ancient Chinese texts are composed of proverbs and maxims which do not quite provide proper grounds for accepting them as philosophical. It might be the case that Chinese thinkers at the time were not deeply concerned with the significance of justifications or rationalizations. Logical justification or rationalization is emphasized, in particular, by the analytic philosophy of the twentieth century. Of course, it need not be a particularly modern invention in the sense that any man of reason will, and can, justify himself whenever it is required. In other words, even the ancient people must have been able to justify their arguments or actions, although their justification might not have been good enough to satisfy modern expectations.
Insofar as justification or rationalization is concerned, ancient Western philosophical texts were in no better a situation than ancient Chinese ones. Indeed, the situation of the former is much worse than that of the latter in the sense that there are no extant philosophical texts before Plato. The written works of the socalled pre-Socratic philosophers are not extant at all, and their fragments were extracted and collected from the books of their successors. Those fragments as such were no better than unrelated and meaningless proverbs and maxims, but they were eventually linked to one another and formed into a theory, as we now know. Nonetheless, the theories of pre-Socratic philosophers are included in the books entitled
What about Neo-Confucianism? Neo-Confucianism originated in China with Han Yu ( 韓愈 , 768–824) and Li Ao ( 李翱 , 772–841) in the Tang Dynasty, and Zhu Xi (1130–1200) in the Song Dynasty became one of the exponents. As mentioned, ancient Chinese texts did not quite provide justification or rationalization for their proverbs and maxims as sufficiently as contemporary philosophers would demand, but the writing method of Neo-Confucian scholars improved a lot, in particular, since Zhu Xi in that they began to pay attention to supplying grounds for their claims. That is, ancient Confucian scholars simply stated standards or directions of behavior without any reasons but wanted people to take actions according to them, whereas Neo-Confucians began to provide rational grounds for those standards and to explain why they should be followed.
Moreover, Korean Neo-Confucians in the sixteenth century in the Chosŏn Dynasty became a lot more precise and careful about supplying grounds for their claims. An excellent example of such a method of writing can be found in the socalled Four-Seven Debate between Ki Tae-sŭng (Kobong, 1527–1572) and Yi Hwang (T’oegye, 1501–1570). They attempted to explain human feelings in terms of two ontological concepts, i.e.
(i) and (vi) are textual evidence to support Ki Tae-sŭng’s claim, (ii) is his interpretation of predecessors’ texts, (iii) is the definitions of some terms which he uses, (iv) is his own analysis and criticism of a predecessor’s position, and (v) is his own conclusion following from their earlier discussion. Whether sufficient grounds are provided is one thing, and whether such grounds are appropriate is another. There is a possibility that a number of grounds supplied in the letter for supporting their claims turn out to fail to satisfy modern standards and, also, that many unfamiliar terms and presuppositions are required to be clarified. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that, as shown, the letter contains a lot of, if not all, the elements that can be counted as being academic as well as rational. It might well be agreed that this way of justifying oneself and trying to persuade others is surely logical and philosophical in the modern sense. Indeed, there is no doubt that Ki Tae-sŭng’s writing is a rational approach to a given subject and that any reasoned discussion of this sort can be viewed as philosophy proper.
4Defoort (2001), p. 393 and p. 404, respectively. 5Defoort (2006), p. 626. 6Defoort (2006, p. 625) tells us about another Chinese philosopher, Fung Yu-lan (馮友蘭 , 1895– 1990), who until his death longed for Chinese philosophy to be “one of the two main branches of world philosophy”, but concluded that “Chinese traditional philosophy ... is considered as having no relation to philosophy.” 7Defoort (2001), p. 396. 8Defoort (2001, p. 397) later on refers to Fung Yu-lan and says that “His explicitly stated criteria are: systematicity, originality, and subdivisions.” According to her explanation, part of (a) and the whole of (c) are derived from Fung Yu-lan. However, I am not convinced by her account since, although Fung Yu-lan (1952, p. 3) himself confesses that “Hence logic, like epistemology, failed to be developed in China,” he still considers Chinese thought to be philosophy. In other words, he appears to think that, although Chinese thought cannot be divided into such branches of philosophy as logic and epistemology, it is still philosophy. On the contrary, if the above conditions of philosophy are Fung Yu-lan’s own, and if he wants to be consistent, then he has to deny Chinese thought to be philosophy. 9Kalton et al. (tr.) (1994), pp. 3–6. I have changed Tzu Ssu and Chu in Kalton’s translation to Zisi and Zhu, respectively, for the consistency of Romanization of Chinese letters in this article.
The problem of the legitimacy or existence of philosophy has never been so serious a problem for Korean scholars as it has been for Chinese scholars. However, since much of Korean thought originated in Chinese thought, if the legitimacy of Chinese philosophy is questioned, the legitimacy of Korean philosophy should be questioned, too.10 In relation to this, Hong summarizes the current status of Korean Neo-Confucianism (which he calls Korean philosophy) as follows:
In this citation, Hong claims that Korean Neo-Confucianism should not remain as a branch of world philosophy, but move out and live its independent life, so that it can make progress. What is surprising here is, as he suggests, that scholars of Western philosophy in Korea view Korean Neo-Confucianism as a pseudo-philosophy. Moreover, it is also true that in Korea there is a tension between scholars of Western philosophy and those of Korean philosophy: i.e. the former demand that the latter must take the Western method of research into consideration, whereas the latter claim that that is not necessary, since they have their own method.
To a certain extent, it might be the case that tension between them arises because they try not to ignore, but to understand, each other. For example, Kim Yŏng-kŏn, a scholar of Western philosophy, questions why it is so difficult to read and understand Korean Neo-Confucian theories even for a philosopher like himself, though he is not a specialist in the field of Neo-Confucianism.12 According to him, the theories should be made understandable so that even the scholar of Western philosophy can read them without much difficulty and evaluate their value as well as their validity. He makes a number of suggestions that the dichotomy of orthodoxy and unorthodoxy which is the origin of an unfriendly attitude to a new or different method of research should be given up, that Neo-Confucian theories should be written in ordinary language in order to make them clear, and the like. His suggestions need to be carefully considered in the current situation in which scholars of Western philosophy and those of Korean Neo-Confucianism “neither read each other’s journals nor attend each other’s conferences,” as is the case between English-speaking and Continental philosophers.13
Indeed, there has been a controversy over the question of whether Korean thought should endeavor to satisfy the conditions of Western philosophy in order to be regarded as world philosophy.14 This controversy is not over the existence of Korean philosophy, but only over its methodology without questioning its existence. Contemporary Korean Neo-Confucian scholars have shown three types of reactions as to what to do about their methodology: (a) that the traditional method of research must be kept without any revision whatsoever, (b) that it can be modified whenever necessary, and (c) that it must be evaluated by and renewed by Western standards.15 It is indeed difficult for anyone to argue explicitly and exclusively for either (a) or (c), unless he/she is ready for severe criticism from the opposite side. However, a somewhat strong claim for (c) was made by Yi Namyŏng in 1979.
We should accept the training methods of Western philosophy—logical conceptualization, objective argumentation, etc.—and through these, we can actualize the purpose of wisdom which East Asian philosophy pursues. The method of research into East Asian philosophy must be modern and there should be no gap between the method and the system of modern value.16
Yi Nam-yŏng is not alone in making such a claim that the Western method of doing philosophy should be used to analyze Neo-Confucian theories.17 It is well known that Fung Yu-lan was a strong supporter of (c) and he did attempt to apply the Western method to Chinese thought. He points out a number of ways that Chinese philosophy differs from Western philosophy: namely, that Chinese philosophy aims for self-cultivation,18 whereas Western philosophy aims for knowledge, that Chinese philosophy lacks the elements of Aristotelian formal logic, that Chinese philosophy has no clear knowledge of, or distinction between, “the ego and the non-ego, or what is subjective and what is objective,” and that Chinese philosophy places emphasis on human affairs, but not on metaphysics.19 From this line of consideration, Fung Yu-Lan argues for one extreme view that the Western method of philosophy should be necessarily adopted and applied to Chinese thought to make it like Western philosophy, whatever that means.
However, from the same consideration, one can go to the other extreme, (a), that the traditional method of research into Neo-Confucianism must be kept without any revision. This type is an extreme type in the sense that it does not allow any revision of the traditional method at all. Yun Sa-sun appears to defend type (a), when he criticizes modern scholars for reshaping the Neo-Confucian debate regarding the mind discussed previously and distorting its terms and concepts.20 He claims that one can understand a Neo-Confucian thesis by studying Zhu Xi’s philosophy itself more deeply, not by adopting Western conceptualizations or the Western way of studying philosophy. What is clear here is that the rejection of the Western method does not necessarily imply the rejection of Korean philosophy’s existence as world philosophy. For there is a possibility that it can still be world philosophy only by using the traditional method of research. On the other hand, many scholars seem to be in favor of type (b) that the traditional method can be modified whenever necessary. This may be the best way to study any subject since one can freely modify the traditional method whenever it is found to have a problem. A presupposition of this type is that newly adopted methods should be used for preserving or supplementing the core of the traditional thought without damaging it.
However, what is disappointing is that even the scholars who strongly support type (b) have not shown any practical attempt to adopt and use a new method. Indeed, they have often declared the necessity of a new method, but they have shown nothing new apart from saying that they will allow for a modified method. It may be either because they are not trained experts in Western philosophy and so they do not quite have any idea about what to do to modify a method for their field or because they are afraid that the new method might damage the field and so they hesitate to try something new.
10However, it does not follow that the status of Korean thought must be questioned because it is possible that it has taken a different course of development from its Chinese origination. Cf. Kim Yŏng-min (2005), p. 209. He wrongly draws the conclusion that the “Korean philosophical tradition is regarded as being insignificant to solve the current philosophical problems” from the premise that “there is no specialist in Korean philosophy in any philosophy departments in the United States.” 11Hong Wŏn-sik (2002), p. 109. The words in the square bracket are mine. 12Kim Yŏng-kŏn (2005), pp. 112–113. 13Charlton (1991), p. 3. 14A number of articles on this subject-matter can be found in Sim Chae-ryong et al. (ed.) (1986). 15After I formulated this division, I found the same sort of division presented by Sim Chae-ryong (1985, pp. 235–236), though his descriptions of each type are different. 16Yi Nam-yŏng (1979), p. 172. Unfortunately, his view is far from extreme, but rather similar to (b) since he suggests a condition that Western conceptions can be used insofar as they do not damage or distort the original meaning (see pp. 170–171). 17For more scholars who share this view, see Yoo Weon-Ki (Yu Wŏn-gi) (2013), pp. 147–148. 18Nam Sang-ho (1996), p. 12. 19Fung Yu-lan (1952), pp. 1–4. 20Yun Sa-sun (2005), pp. 285–286.
As mentioned above, Defoort claims that the question of the legitimacy of philosophy in other countries and the rejection of its existence to them is due to Western ethnocentrism or ethnocentric chauvinism. Solomon appears to share her view, but regards “self-questioning” which is a major characteristic of twentieth century analytic philosophy as a criterion of philosophy.
But simply to assume that philosophy must be as rigorously self-questioning as modern European and Anglo-American philosophy is a subtle form of ethnic chauvinism. It eliminates from the realm of philosophy not only African ethnophilosophy and Latin and Native American and South Pacific mythology but a good deal of the philosophy of religion, the basis (for better or worse) of the development of Western philosophy over much of the past 2,000 years.21
On the following page, Solomon once again emphasizes that if one is too strict about philosophy being self-questioning or self-critical, “then a good deal of the world’s philosophy, including a good deal of Western philosophy, would be left out of the arena.”22 He nonetheless acknowledges that “analytic philosophy still clarifies, articulates, and opens up (rather than closes down) the world,” but he warns us not to insist on a single definition of philosophy too much.23
Indeed, Solomon elsewhere lists various definitions of philosophy, and tells us that “philosophy cannot, without distortion, be reduced to any one of these preferences.”24 He is here making the point once again that there is no single definition of philosophy. According to our examination of his views so far, we can take him to be making the following claims: (a) that philosophy is defined in various ways, (b) that it is not reasonable to take any one of those definitions as the only standard of philosophy, (c) that it is a sort of ethnic chauvinism to take a single definition as the only standard, and (d) that non-Western thought should be also taken as philosophy. It may not be quite correct to ascribe (c) to Solomon since he merely says that it is a sort of ethnic chauvinism to take analytic philosophy as the only standard, but he does not say anything about other branches of philosophy. Such a view is rather clearly found in Defoort when she refers to Western philosophy as a whole as a criterion of judging the legitimacy of non-Western thoughts as philosophy.
I have no objection to (a) and (b): since philosophy has been defined in so many ways by so many philosophers, it is really difficult to pick out any specific characteristic as a common characteristic in all the definitions. And if it is accepted that the definition of philosophy can be diverse, I should also agree on (d). However, as for (c), I am not quite sure whether the rejection of Chinese philosophy being included in the history of philosophy should be taken as Western chauvinism or ethnocentrism.
Perhaps, some people might really have such a chauvinistic or ethnocentric attitude towards non-Western traditions of thought, but it hardly seems reasonable to generalize. Supposing that I am a Korean who has no interest in Chinese philosophy or Indian philosophy, am I a chauvinist for that reason? Supposing that I am a Korean who specializes in Korean philosophy without having any interest in German philosophy or French philosophy or the like, am I ethocentric only for that reason? It seems to me that the main reason for Western philosophers to exclude Korean, Chinese, Indian, African traditions of thought in the history of philosophy might be merely because of their indifference or ignorance. And if so, it is only natural that one does not endeavor to study anything which one is indifferent to or ignorant of. My ignorance might cause my indifference to Chinese philosophy or Indian philosophy and, on the contrary, my indifference to German philosophy or French philosophy might prevent me from studying them and cause my ignorance of them. In this case, I am simply indifferent to and ignorant of foreign philosophical thoughts, but I am neither chauvinistic nor ethnocentric. One more point to add at this stage is that it is of no use to force one to have interest in something in which one has no interest at all. As a Korean proverb says, you can perhaps drag a donkey to a riverside, but you cannot force it to drink water. Likewise, you cannot force Western philosophers against their will to have interest in Korean philosophy or Chinese philosophy or the like.
Fung Yu-lan once pointed out that Chinese thought lacks the elements of formal logic. He thinks that this is because Chinese thinkers had no keen interest in formulating arguments which required grounds for their claims or positions. On the contrary, Cheng says that Chinese thinkers did not have “a wellformulated logical work,” but that this must not be taken to mean that there was “no logical and methodological thinking in classical writings.”25 Both of them are deeply concerned with the necessity of formal logic because it is often counted as a major element of Western philosophy.26 In other words, for Chinese philosophy to be considered as world philosophy, it must have some elements of formal logic.
In effect, according to the story told by Defoort about Hu Shi and Fung Yulan who desperately wanted Chinese traditions of thought to be regarded as Western philosophy or, rather, world philosophy,27 one might picture them as children begging for a lollipop from their parents. Indeed, they appear to have some sort of an obsession, or a sense of inferiority, to Western philosophy. Why is it so important for Chinese thought to be regarded as Western philosophy? In fact, this way of raising a question applies not only to Chinese scholars, but to all the non-Western scholars who desperately want their traditional thought to be included in, or considered as, world philosophy. However, the truth is that there is no such thing as world philosophy. Indeed, as mentioned, there is no single definition of philosophy in the West, and so it is impossible to find a criterion for judging what is and what is not to be regarded as world philosophy.
What do we have to do in this situation? Above all, it is now clear that it is insignificant as well as impossible to find a criterion for a system of thought to be included in Western philosophy or world philosophy. Nonetheless, if it is admitted that a deeper communication or understanding between the past and the present and, also, between different peoples or countries is necessary, we need to have the minimal criterion of making the various traditions of thought understandable to the ordinary man of reason.
I have introduced earlier the debate between two Korean Neo-Confucian scholars, Ki Tae-sŭng and Yi Hwang in the sixteenth century. They neither studied Aristotelian logic nor read any logic books, but it is undeniable that their debate contains a number of characteristics which may well make it a rational discourse. What do we need more for it to appeal to ordinary people? There is no doubt that one should be rational about what he says if one wants to persuade others. At least, we have been trained to discern what is understandable and what is not. And perhaps trained logicians will help with some points which logically untrained debaters are unable to figure out. This much is what the trained logicians are required to do. However, we do not need to be logicians to communicate with and understand others. In effect, it is neither the case that all Western philosophers are experts in logic nor that all Western philosophical theories are vetted by trained logicians. Indeed, what is fundamentally required for anything to be called a science is not any skill in logic, but understanding. If two people talk about a subject-matter and understand each other, then that is a start of a rational discussion (or even philosophy). This much is the minimum prerequisite condition for a worthwhile system of thought. If any system of thought is made understandable, those who are interested in it will study it. We need to remind ourselves of the story about a donkey which I mentioned earlier. If a person feels interested in an understandable thought, he/she will want to know more about it. If he/she is not interested in it, we cannot force the person to have any interest. And even if somebody has no interest in something, that does not mean that he/she is either chauvinistic or ethnocentric.
21Solomon (2001), p. 100. 22Solomon (2001), p. 101. 23Solomon (2001), p. 103. 24Solomon (1997), pp. 12–13. According to him, philosophy has been defined as the love of wisdom, a matter of definitions, something close to morality and religion, the art of criticism or argumentation or conceptual system building or the like, something akin to storytelling or mythology, a study of experience, and so on. 25Cheng Chung-Ying (1965), pp. 195–196. 26Cf. Solomon (2001), pp. 100–104. 27Defoort (2006), p. 625.
Fictions and fairy tales contain imaginary and untrue stories, but nobody would insist that they should be true stories and contain true facts. However, academic or scientific theories are different: we do not expect, for example, the Four-Seven Debate between Ki Tae-sŭng and Yi Hwang28 to be included in a book of fairy tales which we keep at our bedside. Although it is not right to say that all the unexamined theories are not true, there is no doubt that they cannot be accepted to be true until they are examined through proper methods and procedures. We can presumably say that logical analysis is one of such methods and it is also a way of searching for truth. If a theory is logical, it attracts academic interest and becomes a subject-matter for further research, whereas if it turns out to be illogical, it will remain as a story for a historical interest or else it will be simply disposed of.29
However, most Korean scholars of Neo-Confucianism do not seem to be interested in taking a logical approach to Neo-Confucian theories. Indeed, they tend to focus on summarizing, explicating, and interpreting the main ideas and positions of the past Neo-Confucians rather than analyzing, criticizing, and evaluating their arguments. Moreover, they are not very interested in judging the validity of the arguments. Of course, if Zhu Xi’s theories are no longer valid, it is not worth paying great attention to them, though one might still read them for fun or out of historical interest.30 However, this hardly seems to be the reason for the Neo-Confucian scholars’ avoidance of analysis, criticism, and evaluation of Neo-Confucian theories. The reason is rather that they are not familiar with or good at implementing the methods of practice which are generally considered Western.31
On the contrary, there are only a small number of scholars who sympathize with the necessity for a logical evaluation of Neo-Confucian theories and who consider them seriously. Most eminently, Choi Young-Jin (Ch’oe Yŏng-jin) is one of the scholars of Neo-Confucianism who specifically acknowledges the necessity of logic. Although he admits that those theories cannot be fully explained in terms of logic alone, he says that logic is an essential element of evaluation for a theory to survive as a science.32 Indeed, he practically attempts to analyze and evaluate Yi Hwang’s theories on the relationship between
By “logical evaluation or examination of Neo-Confucian theses,” I have in mind the following three elements; consistency, validity, and conceptual clarification.35 Firstly, the term “consistency” is in opposition to the term “contradiction.” That is, if one claims one thing at a time and the opposite at another time for the same matter, then one is being inconsistent and contradictory. Secondly, “validity” is about arguments. For an argument consisting of a number of premises and a conclusion to be logically valid, the conclusion must follow from the premises and, when the premises are true, the conclusion must be true, too. “It would be self-contradictory to affirm the premises and deny the conclusion.”36 Thirdly, the clarification of concepts is to avoid conceptual confusion caused by the typical logical fallacies of ambiguity and vagueness. As we know, ambiguity refers to a word or a sentence having more than two meanings, whereas vagueness refers to a word or a sentence having unclear conceptual extension. It might be well admitted that the three elements are the primary testing devices that philosophical issues must pass so that they can remain as understandable theories for further consideration. This element is particularly necessary in studying Neo-Confucianism because the Chinese language itself is not quite clear and distinct in that it uses many ambiguous and abstract terms and concepts.37
I have called them logical elements only for the reason that they are easily found in any logical books. However, they are rather “commonsensical” elements which we would use in daily conversations with friends or family members. One may say to friends that “You said yesterday that you objected to capital punishment, but you are now saying that you support it. What is your stance on this issue?”—this is about consistency. One can also say that “If she is the mother of you and you are the mother of him, then she is the grandmother of him. Am I right?”—this is about validity. Moreover, one can say that “Hey, I do not understand what you mean. Would you explain it more easily and clearly?”—this is about conceptual clarification. These sorts of conversations commonly take place in our daily life. However, we do not have to be logicians to conduct such conversations.
It seems to me that, if we study more about logic and become experts, it will be of great help in a difficult situation in which we have to make a decision or a judgment. However, it is not absolutely necessary for us all to be trained logicians in formulating and developing philosophical theories. When we need to sort out some difficult problems, we can simply ask for help from trained logicians. If it is admitted that the study of logic may be necessary to improve human reasoning, we have to take it for granted that it will take time to get used to logic. Perhaps, there might be a time when everybody in the world will be familiar with logic and be good at using the Western logical apparatuses. However, the foremost job to make a system of thought a world philosophy is to make it understandable to the ordinary man of reason. This is a new definition of philosophy which is different from the old definition of Western philosophy. In order to make such new world philosophy, we need to be deeply concerned with the above three elements of consistency, validity, and conceptual clarification which I have introduced as the primary “commonsensical” conditions for philosophy.
Armed with these commonsensical apparatuses, let us have a look at the attitudes of Neo-Confucians once again. In fact, there is a difficulty for them in using the tools of formal logic. For most Neo-Confucians in the Chosŏn dynasty shared some attitudes which cannot be considered to be reasonable or logical at all. Their attitudes can be explained in terms of conformity, but they appear in various forms. Firstly, the Neo-Confucians were willing to conform to the social and political requirements or restrictions of their day and, secondly, they were also willing to conform to Confucian teachings at the time to follow the destiny given by the Heavenly Mandate, such as to respect seniors, parents, teachers, and higher authorities, etc. Ki Tae-sŭng and Yi Hwang were no exceptions. They followed not only the social and political system of the time, but also the teachings of their intellectual predecessors or mentors such as Mencius and Zhu Xi among many others. Such conformities to the society at that time were to be followed by the people without raising any questions of validity or rationality, and so they must be examined by present-day standards in order to determine whether they are acceptable or not. Despite all the surrounding irrational circumstances, their debate surely has a number of rational points that can be accepted even at the present day. The suggestion made here is a very common one that through such an examination we should encourage and develop strong points and discourage or get rid of weak points. Once again, it is not necessary for a system of thought to be included in a world philosophy, what is significant is to make it understandable to the ordinary man of reason. Once that has been done, whether Western philosophers study it or not simply depends on their tastes or preferences.
28For a detailed discussion of this debate, see Yoo Weon-Ki (Yu Wŏn-gi) (2012a), pp. 92–111. 29The third alternative might be to consider a theory as religious, but I am not sure whether a logically invalid theory can still be said to have a religious value. Cf. Tu Wei-ming (1978), p. 30. He agrees with Yi Sang-ŭn, a distinguished Korean scholar, who characterizes “Yi Hwang’s NeoConfucian thought as a philosophy of “inner life” and “moral subjectivity.” He also says that such philosophy is “profoundly religious” and that philosophy and religion are inseparable in Yi Hwang’s thought. His remarks are highly controversial, and the controversy largely depends on the definition of “philosophy” and “religion.” That is, if philosophy is defined as the search for truth which always requires a critical and logical examination by reason, all religious statements should survive through such an examination. The question is then whether such rational statements are religiously acceptable. 30Cf. Chŏn Ho-gŭn (1995, p. 150) who once stated that it is not important “to try to determine who is right and who is wrong” between two debaters because “such a trial is meaningless since Zhu Xi’s system of thought is no longer valid nowadays.” 31Ch’oe Yŏng-sŏng (2000), p. 201. He says that the scholars of Neo-Confucianism even have a sense of inferiority regarding Western methods of philosophy, but does not clearly tell us what they are. 32Choi Young-Jin (Ch’oe Yŏng-jin) (1981), pp. 86–91. 33Yun Sa-sun (2001), pp. 119–120 and pp. 141–144; Yi Tong-hŭi (1997), p. 260. Yun Sa-sun claims that Korean Neo-Confucianism in general is doomed to be dismissed by analytical philosophy because of its metaphysical characteristic. However, this cannot be true since lots of metaphysical subject-matters were and still are discussed with great animation in the West. It seems to me that the reason is rather because of the lack of logical consideration of NeoConfucian discussions. In any case, since it is difficult for contemporary Confucian scholars to put this thinking into practice, they might need help from a neighboring field for trained experts in Western philosophy. However, the trained experts in Western philosophy also need to grasp the basis and core of Neo-Confucian theories. 34In relation to this matter, see Defoort (2001), pp. 393–413 and (2006), pp. 625–660. As shown earlier, in both articles, she questions whether ancient Chinese thought can be legitimately called “philosophy.” See also Cheng Chung-Ying (1965, pp. 195–216) who deals with the same sort of question in terms of logic. 35Cf. Yoo Weon-Ki (Yu Wŏn-gi) (2009), pp. 48–54 and (2013), pp. 148–150. 36http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Validity. One thing to note is that the term “consistency” does not necessitate any truth value. Insofar as one does not make any contradictory remarks, one is consistent even if one’s beliefs are false. Since, even if the Neo-Confucian system is primarily based on some false premises, one can be consistent within the system, logical consistency does not guarantee the truth of the system. Similarly, since an argument with false premises and a false conclusion can be also valid, logical validity does not guarantee the truth of the system, either. There thus remains the question of why we should bother with logical evaluation, if they are not of any help with obtaining truth. I shall not deal with this any further in this article. 37Kim Ki-hyŏn (1992), pp. 50–51; Yi Tong-hŭi (1988), p. 417.
I have so far said that, since there is no single definition of Western philosophy, it is an unnecessary effort to find a place for Korean Neo-Confucianism or other foreign thoughts within it. Nonetheless, it may be our obligation to make a system of thought reasonable and understandable so that we can read and understand whatever we are interested in. In order to do this, I suggested, we need to be concerned with the three elements: consistency, validity, and conceptual clarification. This suggestion of these elements is arbitrary in the sense that other philosophers might think of other elements as being basic. Whatever kinds of new elements they suggest, the elements should be basic in their proper sense and, also, the number of the elements should be as few as possible so that the ordinary man of reason can understand and follow them easily. On the one hand, I am worried that I am beginning to make a definition of philosophy over which controversies will never end and, on the other, I nonetheless hope that I am suggesting simplified conditions of world philosophy by means of a small number of commonsensical elements.
What is primarily necessary is, as Sim once suggested, that we should take off “East Asian” from the term “East Asian philosophy.”38 It seems immediately clear what he means by this suggestion. He wants to say that we should not distinguish between East Asian philosophy and Western philosophy, or between Korean philosophy or Chinese philosophy, or the like, but that we should find a common method of research into philosophy as a whole. As seen above, Fung Yu-lan points out that one of the characteristics of Chinese philosophy is that it does not distinguish between what is subjective and what is objective. According to his observation, it now appears that our claim for Korean philosophy distinguished from other philosophies would be to make a distinction we have not made before in the sense that we are making a distinction between what is ours and what is yours.
It may be only natural for one to wish to preserve and protect one’s own, whatever it may be. However, if we hold fast only to our own and ignore somebody else’s, then we are losing the chance to find some truth in a system of thought which is different from ours. It might be too ideal to suggest this, but it is somehow clear that, when we give up selfish or subjective views on our way of thinking and allow an objective attitude towards it, we will have more chances to find something valuable for all mankind. We know what to do to search for truth: we know that, insofar as truth is concerned, altruistic minds are more desirable than selfish minds. Such minds, however, are few and far between. Nonetheless, it is all too clear that, whatever the system of thought we are concerned with, if we are to read and understand it, the first and foremost thing to do is to try to make it reasonable to the average person with reason. This is indeed a “commonsensical” suggestion to write the traditions of thought in a “commonsensical” way in order for them to remain as a science worthy of successive discussion in the future.
38Sim Chae-ryong (1985), pp. 243–248; cf. Sŏng Tae-yong (1985), pp. 252–253.