Korean philosophy

Korean philosophy focused on a totality of world view. Some aspects of Shamanism, Buddhism, and Neo-Confucianism were integrated into Korean philosophy. Traditional Korean thought has been influenced by a number of religious and philosophical thought-systems over the years. As the main influences on life in Korea, often Korean Shamanism, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Silhak movements have shaped Korean life and thought.


Haeinsa temple
Haeinsa is a Buddhist temple in South Gyeongsang.

Korean Buddhist thinkers refined ideas originally introduced from China into a distinct form. The Three Kingdoms of Korea introduced Buddhism to Japan, from where it was popularized in the West. Korean Buddhism consists mostly of the Seon lineage, which is derivative of the Chen (Zen) Buddhism of China and precursor to Zen Buddhism known in the West through Japan.

Buddhist temples can be found in most parts of Korea and many are considered national treasures.


One of the most substantial influences in Korean intellectual history was the introduction of Confucian thought as part of the cultural exchange from China. Today the legacy of Confucianism remains a fundamental part of Korean society, shaping the moral system, the way of life, social relations between old and young, and high culture, and even survived the modernization of the legal system.

Schools of thought in the Joseon period

This dynasty arose out of the military dictatorships and chaos of the preceding era. Transition in this era was from Buddhism to a soldierly approach to Neo-Confucianism. Much work was done, especially on commentaries, and the Chu Hsi school represented indeed the golden age of Korean religious philosophy. Metaphysical research at this time investigated the theological relations between principle (i) and material/vital force (ki), and between as well the four beginnings (sadan), and the seven feelings (ch'ilchong); with the division of the Joseon Confucianists into two leading schools: one on "force" and one on "principles". The philosopher Hwadam ( Suh Kyungduk, 1489–1546 ) moved to integrate i and ki and spoke of Great Harmony (taehwa).

In the Four–Seven Debate with Ki Daesung, Toegye ( Yi Hwang, 1501 – 70 ), while being still dualistic, broke away from Chu Hsi by espousing the reciprocal emanation (hobal) of i and ki: with the Four, ki follows i when i becomes emanant; with the Seven, when ki becomes emanant, i ‘rides’ ki. Though he was critical of Toegye's idea that ki follows i as being dualistic, Yulgok (Yi I, 1536 – 84 ) nevertheless embraced his notion that i ‘rides’ ki: only ki is emanant and i moves its emanation; i and ki are ‘neither two things nor one thing’, as evidenced by ‘wondrous fusion’ (myohap). For Yulgok, original nature (i) and physical nature (ki) coalesce into one human nature. Toegye and Yulgok, whose thoughts culminated in an irenic fusionism, constituted the crowning phase of East Asian neo-Confucianism by exhibiting dialectical dexterity in articulating the concepts of i and ki, left unclarified by the Chinese.

Toegye also developed the neo-Confucianist concept of single-mindedness (kyung), which was a manifestation of his unequivocal humanism, as shown by his total rejection of the Mandate of Heaven (chunmyung), which still had a hold on the Chinese, including Chu Hsi. Toegye's kyung synthesized the primeval Korean sense of supreme-efforts-come-earnest-devotion (chisung) with the Confucianist notion of holding fast to mind (jik-yung); he advocated self-efforts for creating a meaningful life. In particular, his concept of single-mindedness had a lasting influence on the Japanese neo-Confucianists of the Tokugawa period.

Every major Korean neo-Confucianist shared Toegye's preoccupation with single-mindedness, which signalled new stress on praxis in the development of Korean neo-Confucianism: the fusion of the metaphysical and the physical is better brought about through action than speculation, important as theory might be. That was the point of Yulgok's integration of sincerity (sung) with single-mindedness. In this respect Korean neo-Confucianism made a break with the Cheng-Chu school of Chinese neo-Confucianism, which was overly speculative.

During the later Joseon period, Silhak, a form of Neo-Confucianism, emerged. One of the most prominent Silhak philosophers was Jeong Yakyong.

Western philosophy in Korea, 1890–1945

Those who were sent to be educated in Japan, returned with limited knowledge of Western philosophy as a whole, although the German educational influence in Japan led to the beginning of interest in German idealists in Korea through indirect knowledge, with the exception of Marx, Hegel, and the dialecticians.

The strong influence of low church Christianity, through missionary schools, led to practical American YMCA-style philosophy entering into Korea from the 1890s onwards. The discussion of Korean Christianity and Korean Christian philosophy is complicated with many divisions, and discussed in articles elsewhere.

Philosophy in Korea was divided, by Western school, according to a kind of pragmatic mix of varied progressive libertarian beliefs in the south with highly variable changes from rigid authoritianism to softer and easier more pragmatic approaches from the 1990s onwards.

North Korean post-1945 philosophy

In the republican period, post-1945, Marxism–Leninism in the north was built on the Confucian yangban scholar-warriors of earlier times, if perhaps taken to absolutist extremes.

The main influence in North Korea has been since 1996, the notion of "The Red Banner Spirit". This system of belief encourages the North Korean people to build a "kangsong taeguk", a fortress state, based on self-reliance and absolute loyalty to the leader (suryong). This philosophy was created by the "three generals of Mt. Paektu," referring to former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, his father Kim Il-sung and his natural mother Kim Jong-suk. Again little is known of philosophical publications on this subject; but it appears to have replaced Marxism with a home-grown nationalistic ideology.

List of philosophers

Buddhist philosophers

Neo-Confucian philosophers

Taoist philosophers

Joseon period

These are listed by their most commonly used pen name, followed by their birth name.

  • Yeoheon Jang Hyeon-gwang (1554–1637)
  • Hagok Jeong Je-du (1649–1736)
  • Udam Jeong Si-han (1625–1707)
  • Sambong Jeong Do-jeon (1337–1398)
  • Dasan Jeong Yag-yong (1762–1836)
  • Namdang Han Won-jin (1682–1750)
  • Damheon Hong Tae-yong (1731–1783)
  • Nosa Gi Jeong-jin (1798–1876)
  • Gobong Gi Dae-seung (1527–1572)
  • Haseo Kim In-hu (1511–1560)
  • Maewoldang Kim Si-seup (1435–1493)
  • Yangchon Gwon Geun (1352–1409)
  • Yeonam Bak Ji-won (1737–1805)
  • Seogye Bak Se-dang (1629–1703)
  • Hwadam Seo Gyeong-deok (1489–1546)
  • Ugye Seong Hon (1535–1598)
  • Uam Song Si-yeol (1607–1689)
  • Hanju Yi Jin-sang (1818–1885)
  • Hwaseo Yi Hang-no (1792–1868)
  • Toegye Yi Hwang (1501–1570)
  • Yulgok Yi I (1536–1584)
  • Seongho Yi Ik (1681–1763)
  • Ban-gye Yu Hyeong-won (1622–1673)
  • Baek-ho Yun Hyu (1617–1680)

See also


  • Choi, Min Hong (1978), A Modern History of Korean Philosophy, Seoul : Seong Moon Sa.
  • DeBary, Theodore (ed.), The Rise of Neo-Confucianism in Korea, New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.
Daesun Jinrihoe

Daesun Jinrihoe (Korean: 대순진리회), which in its English-language publications has recently used the transliteration Daesoonjinrihoe and, from 2017, Daesoon Jinrihoe, is a Korean new religious movement, founded in April 1969 by Park Han-gyeong, known to his followers as Park Wudang (박한경) (1917–96, or 1917-95 according to the lunar calendar used by the movement). Daesoon thought is said to be a comprehensive system of truth representing the Great Dao of "resolution of grievances and reciprocation of gratitude into mutual beneficence".

Eastern philosophy

Eastern philosophy or Asian philosophy includes the various philosophies that originated in East and South Asia including Chinese philosophy, Japanese philosophy, and Korean philosophy which are dominant in East Asia and Vietnam, and Indian philosophy (including Buddhist philosophy) which are dominant in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Tibet and Mongolia.


Gyeongbong (Korean: 경봉, Chinese: 鏡峰 1892–1982) was a Korean Buddhist monk, Ordained in 1907 at the age of 15, Master Gyeongbong was born in Milyang, Gyeongnam Province, in 1892. Master Gyeongbong was Abbot of Tongdo Temple in Yangsang, one of the most important Jogye Order temples in Korea. At Tongdo Temple, Master Gyeongbong became famous for the many monks he taught. After turning 90, Master Gyeongbong began to give dharma speeches, which more than one thousand people would regularly attend. In 1982, Master Gyeongbong wrote his last lecture, “Touch the Crossbar at Midnight,” and died.


Gyorin (lit. "neighborly relations") was a neo-Confucian term developed in Joseon Korea. The term was intended to identify and characterize a diplomatic policy which establishes and maintains amicable relations with neighboring states. It was construed and understood in tandem with a corollary term, which was the sadae or "serving the great" policy towards Imperial China.Confucian learning contributed in the formation of gyorin and sadae as ritual, conceptual and normative frameworks for construing interactions and political decision-making.

Index of Korea-related articles (K)

This is a partial list of Korea-related topics beginning with K. For Korean words starting with ㄱ, see also under G.

Jeong Dojeon

Jeong Dojeon (Korean: 정도전, Hanja: 鄭道傳, 1342 – October 6, 1398), also known by his pen name Sambong (Korean: 삼봉), was a prominent Korean scholar-official during the late Goryeo to the early Joseon periods. He served as the First Prime Minister (or First Chief State Councillor) of Joseon, from 1392 until 1398 when he was killed by Yi Bang-won, the fifth son of Yi Seong-gye, the founder of the Joseon dynasty. Jeong Dojeon was an adviser to Yi Seong-gye and also the principal architect of the Joseon dynasty's policies, laying down the kingdom's ideological, institutional, and legal frameworks which would govern it for five centuries.


The Great Zen Master Jeongang Yeongshin (Korean: 전강영신대선사, Chinese: 田岡永信大禪師); 1898 – 1975) was a Zen Master of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. He used the principle of Kong-an (Korean: 공안) as a way to lead his disciples to Enlightenment.


Jinul Puril Bojo Daesa (Hangul: 보조지눌; Hanja: 普照知訥, 1158–1210), often called Jinul or Chinul for short, was a Korean monk of the Goryeo period, who is considered to be the most influential figure in the formation of Korean Seon (Zen) Buddhism. He is credited as the founder of the Jogye Order, by working to unify the disparate sects in Korean Buddhism into a cohesive organization.


Juche (; Korean: 주체/主體, lit. 'subject'; Korean pronunciation: [tɕutɕʰe]; usually left untranslated or translated as "self-reliance") is the official state ideology of North Korea, described by the government as "Kim Il-sung's original, brilliant and revolutionary contribution to national and international thought". It postulates that "man is the master of his destiny", that the Korean masses are to act as the "masters of the revolution and construction" and that by becoming self-reliant and strong a nation can achieve true socialism.Kim Il-sung (1912–1994) developed the ideology, originally viewed as a variant of Marxism–Leninism until it became distinctly Korean in character while incorporating the historical materialist ideas of Marxism–Leninism and strongly emphasizing the individual, the nation state and its sovereignty. Consequently, the North Korean government adopted Juche into a set of principles it uses to justify its policy decisions from the 1950s onwards. Such principles include moving the nation towards claimed jaju ("independence"), through the construction of jarip ("national economy") and an emphasis upon jawi ("self-defence") in order to establish socialism.The practice of Juche is firmly rooted in the ideals of sustainability through agricultural independence and a lack of dependency. The Juche ideology has been criticized by many scholars and observers as a mechanism for sustaining the perceived totalitarian rule of the North Korean government and justifying the country's isolationism.

Kim Won-yong

Kim Won-yong (1922–1993) was a South Korean archaeologist and art historian. Noted in the discipline of Korean archaeology and ancient art history (Yoon 2006), he was one of the first people recognized as an archaeologist in Korea to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Kim graduated from New York University in 1959 and was known in the latter part of his career as the "Doyen of Korean Archaeology" (Nelson 1995). He, along with others such as Kim Jeong-hak (Korea University), Kim Jae-won (Seoul National University), Kim Jung-bae (Korea University), Kim Jong-gi, Son Bo-gi (Yonsei University), and Lee Eun-chang are pioneers of modern Korean academia who were influenced not only by the discipline of archaeology but history, art history, architecture, and Korean philosophy.

List of philosophies

Philosophical schools of thought and philosophical movements.

On the Juche Idea

On the Juche Idea: Treatise Sent to the National Seminar on the Juche Idea Held to Mark the 70th Birthday of the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung, 31 March 1982 (Hangul: 주체 사상 에 대하여; MR: Chuch'e sasang e taehayŏ) is a treatise attributed to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on the North Korean Juche ideology. It is considered the most authoritative work on Juche.

The work, although probably ghostwritten for him, legitimized Kim as the sole bona fide interpreter of the ideology. The treatise systemizes Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung's thought on the Juche philosophy. The treatise marks Juche's departure from the materialism of Marxism–Leninism and posits the consciousness of the massess as dependent on the working class leader.

According to Kim Jong-il, the Juche idea is composed of a philosophical principle, socio-historical principles, and guiding principles. The philosophical principle can be summarized with Kim Il-sung's maxim that "man is the master of everything and decides everything." The socio-historical principles entail that the working masses are the subject of history. The guiding principles are: independent stance, creative method, and giving precedence to ideological consciousness. Emphasis on independence in particular has given raise to Kim's Songun, or military first, politics.


Sadae (lit. "serving-the-Great," Hangul: 사대 Hanja: 事大) is a neutral, non-pejorative Korean term which is used in pre-modern contexts. The term is used as a descriptive label for bilateral foreign relations between Imperial China and Joseon dynasty Korea. Sadae is also understood as relevant in understanding pre-Joseon diplomacy.


Sadaejuui (lit. "serving-the-Great-ism," Hangul: 사대주의, Hanja: 事大主義, Chinese: 事大主义) is a largely pejorative Korean term which evolved in the mid-20th century from a more widely used historical concept.The contemporary term sadaejuui was derived from the Chinese shi da (Korean, sadae) as used by the philosopher, Mencius.

Sadae literally means "dealing with the great" or "serving the great" and interpreted as "Loving and admiring the great and powerful".

Juui means "ideology" and it is conventionally translated as "-ism."In other words, sadaejuui is a compound-word composed of sadae + juui.

Samul nori

Samul nori (사물놀이) is a genre of percussion music that originated in Korea. The word samul means "four objects", while nori means "play". Samul nori is performed with four traditional Korean musical instruments called pungmul. These are Kkwaenggwari (꽹과리), a small gong; Jing (징), a larger gong; Janggu (장구), an hourglass-shaped drum; and Buk (북), a barrel drum similar to the bass drum.

Samul nori's roots are in Pungmul nori (풍물놀이), meaning "playing Korean traditional percussion instruments", which is a Korean folk genre comprising music, acrobatics, folk dance, and rituals. Samul nori was traditionally performed in rice-farming villages in order to ensure and to celebrate good harvests. Until modern times, nine-tenths of Korea's people were employed in agricultural work, and this genre defined Korean music. Pungmul nori is also called "Nong-ak nori" (농악놀이): "nong" meaning farm and "ak" meaning music. This name was instituted by the Japanese imperial government's cultural colonization policies regarding Korean culture. Samul nori is the formalized, more modern version of Pungmul nori.

Samul nori started by adapting music from Utdari pungmul (the gut, or shaman ceremony rhythm of the Gyeonggi-do and Chungcheong provinces of South Korea), as well as the genres of Yeongnam folk music and Honam udo gut, combined with more contemporary improvisations, elaborations, and compositions.[1] The original music of these local rhymes is steeped in traditional animism and shamanism but also shows influences from Korean military music and Korean Buddhism. While full Pungmul nori often features the use of wind instruments, Samul nori only features the four aforementioned percussion instruments.

After seeing a Samul nori performance, a poet once described each of the four instruments as a different element of weather: the janggu represents rain; the kkwaenggwari, thunder; the jing, the sounds of the wind; and the buk, clouds. The Korean philosophy of Chun-Ji-In ("Chun" meaning heaven, "Ji" meaning Earth, and "In" meaning people) is also reflected in these instruments: the buk and janggu (leather) represent the sounds of the earth, while the jing and kkwaenggwari (metal) represent sounds of the heavens and the people playing. For this reason, Samul nori without the sound of people is considered incomplete. Although it is generally performed indoors as a staged genre, Samul nori depicts the traditional Korean culture, an agricultural society rooted in the natural environment. Samul nori is characterized by strong, accented rhythms, vibrant body movements, and an energetic spirit.

Samul nori has gained international popularity, with many Samul nori bands and camps performing worldwide. Since the 1980s in South Korea, there has been a marked increase in the amount of fusion music, which combines Samul nori and Western instruments. Samul nori was also extensively used in the Korean musical Nanta.

The most famous Samul nori ensemble is the internationally famous South Korean ensemble styled SamulNori, which is credited for bringing the music from a rural folk genre to the contemporary stage. The group was established in February 1978 by janggu player and former Namsadang star performer Kim Duk Soo (김덕수[2]), along with Kim Young Bae (kkwaenggwari), Choi Tae Hyun (jing), and Lee Jong Dae (buk). Following Kim Young Bae's death in 1985, he was replaced by Choi Jong Sil, and Lee Kwang Soo replaced Lee Jong Dae on the buk.[3] The group has collaborated and recorded with a number of non-Korean ensembles, most notably in 1987 with the Red Sun jazz band, with one Samul Nori/Red Sun CD selling 70,000 copies.[4][5] They have also performed in August 2000 at the Earth Celebration International Arts Festival on Sado Island in Japan with the Japanese taiko group Kodo.[6]

Regarding his choice to move from the more traditional outdoor performances to indoor venues, Kim Duk Soo states that at the time he established SamulNori, during the last years of the administration of former South Korean president Park Chung Hee, Korean traditional music was associated with the student movement, and anyone playing such instruments outdoors could be arrested. Thus, he developed the current version of the genre, which is generally presented indoors on concert hall stages.In 1993, SamulNori expanded to include twenty performers and changed its name to SamulNori Hanullim, Inc. ("Hanullim" meaning "big bang").

Sarim (Korean political faction)

For the dessert, see Thai cuisine.The Sarim (sometimes Saarim), or "forest of scholars," was a powerful faction of literati that dominated Middle and Late Joseon politics in Korea.


Seongcheol (April 6, 1912 – November 4, 1993) is the dharma name of a Korean Seon (Zen) Master. He was a key figure in modern Korean Buddhism, being responsible for significant changes to it from the 1950s to 1990s.Seongcheol was widely recognized in Korea as having been a living Buddha, due to his extremely ascetic lifestyle, the duration and manner of his meditation training, his central role in reforming Korean Buddhism in the post-World War II era, and the quality of his oral and written teachings.


Sojunghwa (Hangul: 소중화; Hanja: 小中華) is a 17th century Korean concept that means "Little China" referring to the Joseon Dynasty. After the Manchu-ruled Qing dynasty conquered the Han Chinese-ruled Ming dynasty, Koreans thought that barbarians ruined the center of civilization of the world and so Confucianist Joseon Korea had become the new center of the world, replacing Ming China hence the name "Little China." Tokugawa Japan and Vietnam also had a similar belief in themselves after the Qing Dynasty had taken over China.Based on Sinocentrism, the belief that China was the center of civilization in the world, the Chinese believed that Korea, then a tributary state, was a highly civilized state. Meanwhile the Koreans considered Japanese and Jurchen people to be barbarians (Chinese: 夷狄; pinyin: yídí) or beasts (Hangul: 금수; Hanja: 禽獸; RR: geumsu), under the Hua–Yi distinction.

Taoism in Korea

Taoism or "Do" is thought to be the earliest state philosophy for the Korean people spanning several thousand years. However, its influence waned with the introduction of Buddhism during the Goryeo kingdom as the national religion and the dominance of neo-Confucianism during the Joseon dynasty. Despite its diminished influence during those periods, it permeated all strata of the Korean populace, integrating with its native animism as well as Buddhist and Confucian institutions, temples, and ceremonies. The Taoist practice in Korea developed, somewhat in contrast to China, as an esoteric meditative practice in the mountains taught by the "mountain masters" or "mountain sages".

One of Korea's well-known founding myths in which a tiger and a bear seek to become human during an encounter with Hwanung may be viewed as a Taoist parable. The exact origin, despite various theories by historians, is in question because the royal records maintained by the early Korean kingdoms were destroyed during the two occasions in which the royal libraries were burned by invading Chinese armies. Later attempts to study the history and philosophy of Korean Taoism were suppressed during the Joseon kingdom which embraced only Confucianism as the proper field of study.

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