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Articles Chöng Tasan's Philosophy of Man: A Radical Critique ofthe Neo-Confucian World View MICHAEL C. KALTON Cihöng Yag-yong (1762-1836), better known by his pen name, Tasan, is recognized as the one who brought Sirhak, the School of Practical Learning, to its highest peak. The long years of his exile (1801-18) were years of vast scholarly accomplishment. In volume alone his work is overwhelming; his collected works, set in modern Chinese type, occupy well over thirteen thousand pages. But it is not the volume alone that is impressive, for his work is marked by a consistently high level of comprehensive and careful scholarship, sophisticated and critical methodology, and an originality that is the product of deep reflection and independence ofjudgment. Tasan is best known as the foremost representative of Sirhak, an intellectual movement characterized by practical concerns such as institutional and economic reform, along with a critical cast of mind that emphasized the need for concrete evidence rather than speculative theorizing. Materials of this sort abound in Tasan's work, and it is being mined anew by contemporary Korean scholars for an audience that discovers in Tasan a precursor of the modern era. This does not begin to exhaust the full dimensions of Tasan's work, however. Approximately one-half of his extant written works are devoted to studies and commentaries on the Confucian classics, and of all his scholarly accomplishments, the two that he himself esteemed most highly are his commentary on the Book of Changes and his elucidation of mourning ritual. Tasan's aim in his classical studies is to recover the pristine Confucian vision; the Han (206 B.c.-A.D. 220) and Sung (960-1126) dynasties in particular were periods of new developments in the Confucian tradition. Tasan, attempting to shake free of the effects of these two 4 Journal ofKorean Studies periods that deeply colored the interpretation of the classics, terms his own study Susa hak after the names of the two rivers where Confucius is said to have established his school. In his commentaries on the classics, he critically reviews for each passage the principal commentaries of the Han and Sung Confucians, along with a selection from T'ang, Ming, and Ch'ing commentators, and then offers his own interpretation with supporting historical and philological evidence. His work is at once both original and deeply faithful to the texts that stand at the foundation of the Confucian tradition. In a certain sense, Tasan's accomplishment in these Confucian studies is more remarkable than the Sirhak studies for which he is most noted. In the latter, he adheres to avalué orientation shared by others; in the former he is walking a more independent and lonely path, breaking decisively not only with the Neo-Confucian orthodoxy of Chu Hsi's school of thought, which had thoroughly dominated the intellectual world of Yi-dynasty Korea, but also with the whole body of underlying assumptions about the universe and man's place in it that had been generally accepted in the Confucian tradition for some two thousand years. It would be difficult to find ¿mother thinker in either China or Korea who not only put off the Neo-Confucian vision, but also developed an alternative that rivaled it in comprehensiveness, balance, and depth. In this paper I will attempt to delineate the major features of Tasan's view of man and the universe in contrast to the prevalent NeoConfucian vision. To understand the full dimensions of his undertaking , Neo-Confucianism must be understood not merely as a speculative philosophical system, but as a total vision and way of life. Thus we will begin with an overview of this vision, with special attention to the articulation between its metaphysics, its view of human nature and psychology, and the way it approaches the basic Confucian task of cultivating one's full human potential. THE NEO-CONFUCIAN VISION There are historical periods during which the intellectual life of the times calls for the descriptive prefix "neo," when men return to the thought, art, or culture of an earlier age but change what they recover because they themselves have become different. The Sung dynasty in China...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1665
Print ISSN
0731-1613
Pages
pp. 3-38
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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