Although li 理 is the philosophical term that defines the distinctive nature of Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism, the mainstream Confucianism in China and Korea since the twelfth century, the understanding of li as either "principle" or "coherence" is the subject of ongoing debate. LiĴ le attention, however, has been paid to li as the lived experience(s) of Neo-Confucians as "scholar-officials," the key political agents of Neo-Confucian politics, as if it was (and is) a pure philosophical concept. This essay examines the complex nature of li against the backdrop of the political conflict between two of the most prominent Neo-Confucian scholar-officials of late Koryŏ Korea (918–1392), Yi Saek and Chŏng Tojŏn, and shows that it was mainly due to their different understandings of li either (primarily) as coherence or as public principle that led Yi and Chŏng to radically different ethical visions and political judgments. The essay concludes by revisiting the contemporary debate on li.


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pp. 369-392
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