Yi Hwang (Toi-Gye) was born in 1501 in the province of Kyongsang-Do. He lived at a time of great social upheaval and ethical conflict between the public good and private self-interest. A very intelligent man, he passed the preliminary provincial civil service examination with top honors at the age of 33. Because this exam was usually only passed by older people, he was held in high esteem for this accomplishment. He continued his scholarly pursuits, even as he held several government positions, until his death at age 70.
During his youth, he acquired the pen name Yi Toi-Gye which means "returning stream." Although he was appointed to several high government offices during his life, he preferred to devote himself primarily to his academic studies. His legacy was his philosophical teachings. His writings significantly influenced neo-Confucianism
The foundation of Toi-Gye's school of thought was based on the philosophy of the 12th century Confucian scholar Chu Hsi. Chu Hsi established the concepts of "li" (reason or abstract form) and "chi" (matter or vital force), and proposed that these two concepts were responsible for all human characteristics and the operation of the universe. As he defined the concepts, they are very similar to the concepts of body and soul in Western philosophy and religion. The "li," however, is not totally synonymous with the idea of an individual represents groups or models for each form of existence. Toi-Gye's school of thought supported the concept that the "ii" was the controlling agent in the universe and that the "chi" was a supporting component. Perfecting oneself through the building of good moral character, learning, and reflection was stressed in the practice of the "li" school of thought. Its influence was strongly felt in the Kyongsang area where Yi Toi-Gye was born.
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