Trouble with korean confucianism: Scholar-official between ideal and reality

Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 8 (1):29-48 (2009)
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This essay attempts a philosophical reflection of the Confucian ideal of “scholar-official” in Joseon Korea’s neo-Confucian context. It explores why this noble ideal of a Confucian public being had to suffer many moral-political problems in reality. It argues first that because the institution of Confucian scholar-official was actually a modus-operandi compromise between Confucianism and Legalism, the Confucian scholar-officials were torn between their ethical commitment to Confucianism and their political commitment to the state; and second, that because the Cheng-Zhu neo-Confucianism vigorously imported and indigenized by Joseon Koreans exalted the family over the state, Joseon neo-Confucian scholar-officials were torn between two competing moral obligations, filiality and loyalty. The essay concludes by discussing whether, given the problems with which the ideal of the Confucian scholar-official was frequently entangled, liberal individualism should be pursued as its normative alternative.



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Sungmoon Kim
City University of Hong Kong

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