This book will inquire into the meaning and significance of Neo-Confucian debates during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897) in relation to political thought and policy of the period. The Joseon dynasty lasted more than five hundred years, supported by the ideological foundation of Neo-Confucianism, and the scholars who led the most important Neo-Confucian debates of this period were the very intellectuals who held power over political matters. The Joseon dynasty was established as a Neo-Confucian state on the theoretical foundations of the thought of Jeong Do-jeon 鄭道傳 (1342-1398) and Gwon Geun 權近 (1352-1409) in the late 14th century. Critical challenges arising from internal conflicts in the 16th century were addressed and overcome by Yi Hwang 李滉(1501-1570) and Yi I 李珥 (1536-1584), who successfully rebuilt the ideology of the nation. Crises in the 17-18th centuries, which were triggered by foreign invasions, were explored in grand discourses such as the disputes over prescribed mourning periods and the debates on human nature and animal nature. Still later, Neo-Confucians engaged in important intellectual movements, seen for example in Shilhak 實學 ("Practical Learning") and efforts to Wijeong cheoksa 衛正斥邪 ("Defend Orthodoxy and Reject Heterodoxy") in response to the introduction of the new culture of Western civilization.
I will explore how the debates of these and other intellectuals reflected their positions within the political structure of their times, and how a process of practical trial and error within the political arena, influenced them to modify and refine their theories. I will go on to compare the political functions of Confucianism or Neo-Confucianism in Korea with their applications in China and Japan.