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Affectionate Koreans vs Argumentative Koreans

This week, we will cover two traits that are often used to describe Koreans: “Koreans are affectionate” and “Koreans are argumentative."
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This week, we will cover two traits that are often used to describe Koreans: One is “Koreans are affectionate” and the other is “Koreans are argumentative.” We will focus on these two seemingly contradictory characteristics of Koreans
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and revisit the two famous debates in the history of Korean philosophy: the Four-Seven Debate and the debate on Human nature and Animal nature. Emotion VS Reason? To those who feel that emotion and reason are opposites, having both an emotional and an reasoning character can be considered incomprehensible. In the Koreans’ point of view, however, these two are inseparably related. People start debates because they are interested in or care about an issue. Emotion triggers reason and reason explains emotion. In that way, if you’re able to balance them well, emotion and reason become indispensable partners that are greater than the sum of their parts.
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A striking development in the history of Korean philosophy was when thinkers became able to integrate this emotion-reason polarity seamlessly. That is why we translate Maeum (마음), the combined faculties of emotion and reason in Korean philosophy, to “mind/heart.” A Vigorous Interest in Human Emotions and Experiences Korean philosophy was unique in that it held a vigorous interest in theorizing human emotions and experiences in everyday life, leading to a long lineage of philosophical debate. In fact, emotion itself was one of the most important topics of discussion in the history of Korean philosophy, whereas Chinese philosophy preferred to focus on human nature over mundane emotions.
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When Neo-Confucianism was first introduced to Korea from China, Joseon intellectuals jumped into debate on the relationship between everyday feelings, the “Seven Emotions”, and moral emotions, the “Four Sprouts”, which had hardly been treated as an important issue in China. For the Koreans, morality was not just a matter of right and wrong, but of whether it can be experienced alongside our spontaneous emotions. Once the discussion on moral emotions formed a unique genealogy called the Four-Seven Debate, Joseon Korean intellectuals discovered and theorized on the following key topics. They analyzed the morality of the mind/heart “before activation” and “after activation”; They also asked whether moral emotions were attainable to everyone or only to the sages.
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Furthermore, they even asked if humans and animals share the same moral basis. If these sound confusing, don’t worry. We’ll delve deeper into what these topics mean in the following lessons. These debates went on unprecedentedly long and became extremely complicated, to the point that some scholars feel like the debate didn’t result in a clear answer. This argumentative feature, however, shows a phase in the development of Korean philosophy, and behind this persistent debate, there is still a fervent passion for realizing the truth in our everyday experiences. These debates were recorded in classical Chinese, as Hangeul was not popularized yet at the time. Because of this, people often regard these discussions in Korean Confucianism as footnotes in Chinese philosophy.
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However, if you carefully examine the factors and motivations behind the debates, you will understand that these contain recurring concerns which uniquely connect Korean traditional and contemporary philosophy.

This week, we will cover two traits that are often used to describe Koreans: One is “Koreans are affectionate” and the other is “Koreans are argumentative.”

We will focus on these two seemingly contradictory characteristics of Koreans and revisit the two famous debates in the history of Korean philosophy: the Four-Seven Debate and the Horak debate.

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Introduction to Korean Philosophy

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