Who Should Ascend the Throne? The Two Views of Korean Confucians

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Youngsun Back


This paper examines the thoughts of two prominent Korean Confucians of the late Goryeo 高麗period (918–1392), Yi Saek 李穡 (1328–1396) and Jeong Do-jeon 鄭道傳 (1342–1398). Although they were both renowned as followers of Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucianism, they held differing views on several important issues. One of these issues was the royal successions of King U 禑王 (32nd) and King Chang 昌王 (33rd). Yi Saek considered them to be legitimate rulers of Goryeo, while Jeong Do-jeon denied their legitimacy and accused those involved in their enthronements of treason. In order to conceptualize their differences, I first explain the distinction between the ownership conception and the service conception of political authority introduced by Joseph Chan. Based on this philosophical framework, I analyze and compare the thoughts of Yi Saek and Jeong Do-jeon. My conclusion is that they based political legitimacy on different grounds: for Yi Saek, legitimacy is based on the founder’s achievements in setting up the cultural and political foundation of Goryeo, whereas for Jeong Do-jeon, it is based on the founding king himself, who established the dynasty in 918. Accordingly, I call their views the “founding service” conception and the “founder’s ownership” conception of political authority, respectively. I hope this analysis and comparison of their differing conceptions of political authority can contribute to a better understanding of their political thoughts and the development of the concept of political legitimacy in Korean history. 

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How to Cite
Back, Y. (2021). Who Should Ascend the Throne? : The Two Views of Korean Confucians. Journal of World Philosophies, 6(1), 58–72. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.iu.edu/iupjournals/index.php/jwp/article/view/4161
Author Biography

Youngsun Back, Sungkyunkwan University

Youngsun Back is an Assistant Professor at the College of Confucian Studies & Eastern Philosophy, Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea. Her publications include Traditional Korean Philosophy: Problems and Debates (co-edited with Philip J. Ivanhoe, 2016), “Are Animals Moral?: Zhu Xi and Jeong Yakyong’s Views on Nonhuman Animals” (2018), “Rethinking Mozi’s Jian’ai: The Rule to Care” (2019), and “Revealing Contingency Through Shun’s Ascension to the Throne” (2020).


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