Among the Confucian and Buddhist philosophical heritages of East Asia, Zhu Xi’s school of nature and principle (lixue 理學 in Chinese, seongnihak 性理學 in Korean), with its philosophy of the primacy of li (principle), provides valuable resources for a new universal ethics due to its rationalistic metaphysical characteristic that goes beyond instrumental or functional reason. The defining traits of lixue involve a metaphysical philosophical thinking that places importance on the making of distinctions in the levels of being. The distinctive characteristic of Zhu’s metaphysics is connected invariably with his philosophy of the primacy of li, which gives precedence to li 理 over qi 氣 (‘material force’ or ‘psycho-physical matter’). By positing the objective existence of a normative truth embedded in xing 性 (seong in Korean; ‘moral [human] nature’), the NeoConfucianism of Zhu Xi seeks to secure the moral basis of not only human society but the entire ecosphere. Zhu Xi’s philosophy of the primacy of li may serve to reinvigorate the ethical foundation of contemporary Korean society, which despite current materialistic-physicalist tendencies is marked by manifestly deep Neo-Confucian spirituality and religiosity.
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