Monday, August 28, 2006

"Ontology, a branch of philosophy based on capitalism..."

(A Self-Image from Wikipedia)

I learn something new every day. Just yesterday, I happened upon an article, "One's true image is what others see," by Lee Se-jung, business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo. Lee has been reading some writings by Sungkonghoe University Professor Shin Young-bok, a man who had the unfortunate experience of being arrested by the Park Chung-hee regime in 1968 and sentenced to life imprisonment for "being involved in a political party that a North Korean spy had formed to make South Korea communist."

The prison didn't take all of his life -- after all, he's been teaching at Sungkonghoe University -- but it took twenty years until his release on August 15, 1988. The very next year, he began teaching at Sungkonghoe, where he is "an expert on Marxist economics and ... Eastern classical literature as well."


Well, what does Professor Shin have to teach us? I don't directly know. But here's what business news editor Lee summarizes:
Probably because he has gone through all manners of hardship, Professor Shin emphasizes relations with other people. He goes beyond ontology, whose goal is to maximize each individual's or each group's interests. He instead emphasizes relations and argues that relations with others and other creatures or objects are the core of human life.

Ontology, a branch of philosophy based on capitalism, always demands competition and winning. Mr. Shin maintains that an emphasis on relationships is a new alternative to build a more humane society. He also explains that a basic factor of European modern history is ontology, while Asian society is based on relationships.

Ontology is based on capitalism, demands competition and winning, and aims to maximize interests?


Professor Shin may be an admirable man, but if Lee's summary is accurate, then his students have some un-learning to do.

Ontology is not based on capitalism, does not demand competition and winning, and does not aim to maximize interests.

That would be rational actor theory.

Ontology, rather, is the study of being or existence.

If that sounds rather abstract, it should, for ontology is abstract, so abstract that any links between its abstract, etherial realm and the concrete, material realm of competing, winning, and maximizing interests will be rather tenuous.

As for the remark that "a basic factor of European modern history is ontology, while Asian society is based on relationships," this sounds like a variant on the claims asserting the superiority of group-based "Asian values" over individualistic Western values, which we heard a lot about back in the 1990s ... until the market crash of 1997. But Shin also seems to be taking a page from the volumes of criticism indigenous to the modern West itself that blame, for instance, Descartes's ontological dualism for everything from the mistreatment of animals to the evils of capitalism.

Korea's relationship-based society, of course, treats animals very well and is not at all competitive.

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At 4:57 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

All I can say Maybe this was a bad translation..?

At 5:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I also wondered about that, but I'm betting that the good professor really does think that the problem is with Western 'ontology.'

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:36 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Like you said, it sounds a little like marxist postmodernism, but even so, they say capitalism is a product of cartesian ontology, not the other way if nothing else they at least have their timeline in chronological order. it sounds like he decided to just make up his own history of philosophy while borrowing a few terms here and there and inventing his own definitions..

At 6:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Korea was a very isolated place back when this fellow was arrested, and he spent 20 years in prison, only being released in 1988, so his opportunities for furthering his education may have been limited.

He probably had time for a lot of thinking, however, and I can imagine him spinning a system from the things that he did know in an attempt to encompass everything in a conceptual net.

But maybe I'm now doing the same thing with him since I really know almost nothing about his life...

Jeffery Hodges

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