A New Philosophy, ‘Neopragmatism’ for Korea Reform


by Emeritus Professor Yang-Taek Lim, Ph.D.

Hanyang University

Seoul, Korea


[Editor’s Note: This essay has been derived from the author’s congratulatory address as Chairman and President of the Asian Peace Economic Research Institute, under auspices of the Korea Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to congratulate the opening of the 13th Annual Memorial Service for Korean Pioneers’ Spirits & Award Ceremony held in Hawaii, on August 28, 2014, in commemoration of Korean immigration to the United States.  – JP.]


Since history is the record of the past, there cannot be ‘if’. However, the history of the past can be considered as the ‘compass’ of the future. Therefore, in an attempt to open a new history for a socially and nationally desirable future, we cannot but reflect on the historical facts of the past. In this sense, such an attempt has been infused into the commemorative ceremony of today [see footnote 1, below].


Hence the author would like to point out the fact that the most serious problem of the Korean society is ‘the absence of philosophy’ in the aspect of low ethics and low justice. The two ‘lows are more harmful to Korean people than the recent economic phenomena such as low growth, low birth, low productivity, low investment, low interest rate, low money circulation speed, low exchange rate (strengthening won) along with high unemployment (of youth in particular), high national debt, high household debt, high risk of national security.


A typical example to plainly expose ‘the absence of philosophy’ in Korean society is the catastrophe of the South Korean ferry ‘Sewol’ on April 16, this year, which was a sad and horrendous incident in which 304 passengers sank with the vessel and died. This tragedy was the result of a collective crime such as the avarice of Yoo Byung-eon and his company (Chonghaejin Marine), the flight of the captain and the sailing crew, the phony rescue operation of the coast guard, and the Korean governments’ corruption and incompetence.


All of the Korean citizens were astonished in front of the fact that no one person who sank with the ship was rescued. However, there was a good and righteous person. Park Ji-Young (22-year-old) died taking care of her student. When she died, she wasn’t wearing a life jacket because she had benevolently given hers to a student.


In order to cope with the wretched ‘accident society’ in which the Korean people live in, the vulgar nature of South Korea’s ‘corrupt society’ should be eliminated by cutting off the bureaucratic ties based on region and school in particular. More importantly, a new philosophy, ‘Neopragmatism’ in contrast to ‘New Liberalism’, should be introduced to the Korean society, diffused among the Korean people, carved in their hearts, and operated in the Korean government policy and social custom.


In line with J. Locke (1690) J. J. Rousseau (1762), J. S. Mill (1861), A. C. Pigou (1932), J. Rawls (1971), B. Rothostein (1998), Lee Ik (1681-1763), Jung yong (1762-1836), etc, the author has defined ‘Neopragmatism’ as a thought that pursues a ‘humanitarian community’ which values human dignity, autonomy and creativity by satisfying ‘basic needs’(employment, housing, education, transportation, medical service and pension after retirement) for ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ based on morality, ethics, justice in conformity with ‘social choice’ for an optimal resource allocation.  ‘Neopragmatism’ is different from Deng Xiaoping’s ‘goal-oriented pragmatism’(i.e., ‘practicalism’) or John Dewey (1948)’s ‘performance oriented pragmatism’(i.e., the survival of the fittest).


The Korean society is confronted with a multifaceted critical situation which is composed of security crisis, socioeconomic crisis and cultural crisis. In particular, the cultural crisis stems from the fact that the Asian traditional ethics has been weakened and infected by ‘greed’ capitalism while the Western culture has gained popularity but lost its original value as Puritanism has disappeared from modern capitalism. In general, the former seeks ‘harmony’ based on hierarchical orders while the latter pursues ‘rationality’ based on horizontal orders.


However, the author believes that ‘Neopragmatism’, in contrast to the two value systems above, is the only effective value-standard for the Korean society, at least in the attempt to resolve the four conflicts:   ideological conflict, conflict among different income classes, conflict among different regions, and conflict between management and labor. Otherwise, the South Korean ‘ship’ which seems to lose the ‘compass’ in the coal-black open sea may sink like Titanic in 1912.


Hence the author would like to emphasize that ‘the sane society’ asserted by Erich Fromm (1900-1980) is much more important and urgently needed than ‘creative economy’ which is originated from John Hopkin’s “Creative Economy” (2011) and now President Park Geunhye’s administrative philosophy, as well as the core icon of the government. This is so because it is impossible for any technological invention to be successfully and fruitfully created and developed in reality.


Further, in the pursuit of social reform from ‘corrupt society’ into ‘just society’ for a ‘creative Korea’, the author would also like to emphasize that all Korean people of nowadays need to fully re-digest the message of “Korea Reform” asserted in 1919 by Ahn Chang-ho, who is often referred to as “Korea’s master”.


Why is it necessary today? This is so because we are obliged to make Korean historical justice stand up. Most Korean people are aware of the fact that many patriots, well-known or unknown, had devoted themselves to the independence movement and died in the era of Japanese Imperialism but their descendants have been very poor, although the ancestors didn’t sacrifice themselves at all for the purpose of the well-being of their families.


Finally, the author would like to introduce a poem, ‘Light of the East’ of Rabindranath Tigore (1868-1941): “ In the golden age of Asia, Korea was one of the lamp-bearers. And that is waiting to be lighted once again for the illumination of the East”. The author hopes that all Koreans shall be the lamp-bearers!


[Fig. 1] Philosophical Foundation of Neopragmatism : FreedomJusticeWelfare



[Fig. 2] South Korea's Prospects and National Management Strategies


Sources: Lim, Yang-Taek(1995), The People Shall Perish Where There Is No Vision, Seoul : The Mail Economic Daily Press, September.

Lim, Yang-Taek(2008), "Korea's Prospects and National Management Strategies", Keynote Speech delivered at the 20th International Conference on Systems Research, Informatics and Cybernetics (July 24~30, 2008), Baden-Baden, Germany.

Lim, Yang-Taek(2010), "Neopragmatic Solutions to the Structural Problems of South Korean Economy, the Korean Peninsula and the East Asian Community", International Journal of Asian Economics, Vol.1, No.1.

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