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Skip to 0 minutes and 17 seconds Koreans have developed their way of thinking by innovating on knowledge at cultural boundaries. What we have talked about so far is mainly about what happened in the past; this week, we are going to talk about the core ideas of Korean philosophy that have endured up till now. We’ll see how we can think differently about the world through these ideas. Korean Matrix People living on the Korean peninsula have experienced various cultural influences over its history. In the process of accepting such foreign cultures and digesting them into their own, however, they were aware of the differences, and kept themselves unassimilated. These differences are what transformed the given cultures and led to new innovations.

Skip to 1 minute and 28 seconds I would call what made Koreans able to transform the foreign, the “Korean matrix.” The “Korean matrix” has not yet been elaborated upon in a philosophical manner, although I would say many people have perceived it directly or indirectly. Given its depth, I can’t cover every aspect of it, but I can share with you some clues about the Korean matrix. Compared with Western philosophy, it will be easier to see the unique features of the way Koreans see the world; compared with Chinese philosophy, you will be able to get a more nuanced understanding of what “Korean” means. Compared with Other Philosophies It looks obvious that Koreans would not endorse the dichotomy that basically permeates Western languages and philosophies.

Skip to 2 minutes and 37 seconds For instance, if you see the world through Plato, where all Western philosophies are believed to originate, you will see the “ideal” as something transcendental, beyond any “real” phenomenon.

Skip to 2 minutes and 56 seconds From this setup, the following kinds of binary confrontations came out: mind vs body, form vs matter, reason vs emotion etc. But Koreans didn’t want to divide the world like this. For example, they do not think that the mind and body are completely separate from each other. Of course, this does not mean that Koreans cannot distinguish between the body and mind or that they simply assume that the two are the same. Rather, Koreans are more attracted to the view of the body and mind as a continuous unity, as they devised various ways to reconcile reason and emotion, as mentioned before. Of course, this resistance to binary confrontations is common to other Asian philosophies as well.

Skip to 4 minutes and 3 seconds In this sense, it may seem that Korean and other Asian philosophies share a similar perspective. However, if you look at how Koreans transformed and refracted Chinese culture and philosophy, you can see the key drivers of Korean philosophy. The Key Drivers of Korean Philosophy We’ve talked about how the Four Seven debate arose when Korean thinkers adopted the neo-Confucian worldview, yet adapted it to question whether we could achieve morality despite our capricious everyday feelings, leading to a long lineage of debate. When Koreans became dissatisfied with the long held practice of writing Korean in the Chinese written language, Hanmun, they devised a novel way to express Korean, leading to Hangeul.

Skip to 5 minutes and 11 seconds I believe that this kind of “Korean ardor”, the driving force to push Koreans to innovate either to adapt existing cultures or to create entirely new ones, is an essential part of the “Korean Matrix” The “Korean Matrix” is not a fixed mechanism which transformed the foreign into the native. It has evolved over time as it continuously processed cultural influences to become “Korean”. I believe that a core aspect of the “Korean Matrix” has culminated in the Korean language and lifestyle, which survives in the Korean psyche till today.

Skip to 6 minutes and 1 second Next lesson, we will see how this worldview is manifested in the vocabulary that Koreans use to refer to the “self”: “Uri”.

Recap on the Topics Discussed so far

Koreans have developed their way of thinking by innovating on knowledge at cultural boundaries.

What we have talked about so far is mainly about what happened in the past; this week, we are going to talk about the core ideas of Korean philosophy that have endured up till now. We’ll see how we can think differently about the world through these ideas.

What was your favorite topic which we’ve discussed from Week 1 to 3? Share it in the comments!

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Introduction to Korean Philosophy

Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)

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