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Acta Koreana is published semi-annually on June 15 and December 15 by Academia Koreana, Keimyung University.
 
 
Title BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH: TASAN CHŎNG YAGYONG’S UNDERSTANDING OF HUMAN NATURE
 
Author
DONALD L. BAKER
Volume Vol. 20 No. 1
Pages pp. 73~90 (all 18 pages)
Publication Date JUNE, 2017
Keyword human nature, heart-and-mind, propensities, penetrating insight, free will
Abstract Tasan Chŏng Yagyong (1762–1836) used terminology borrowed from the mainstream Neo-Confucian tradition to construct a philosophy of human nature that was very different from what is seen in the writings of Neo-Confucians who preceded him. He agreed with them in ranking human beings as morally superior to animals. However, his reason for doing so was not the same as theirs. He argued that human beings, unlike animals, are endowed with a heart-and-mind capable of penetrating insight, which allows them to choose how to act. Moreover, their decisions on how to act are influenced by two conflicting propensities, one for acting morally and one for acting selfishly. That meant human beings were not virtuous by nature. It was as natural for them to act selfishly as it was for them to act appropriately. In another break with Neo-Confucian tradition, he argued that above human beings there existed another category of sentient beings. Unlike human beings, they were spiritual beings, in that they were not composed of ki, the matter-energy both human beings and animals were made of. They were spirits, conscious immaterial beings. When we examine how Tasan defined human nature and how he compared it to the natures of other material beings as well as to the natures of totally immaterial beings, it becomes clear that, for Tasan, human beings were between heaven and earth, neither lowly animals nor pure spirits. They were simply human beings, with all the advantages and disadvantages that entailed.
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