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2012-05-25 (Vol 9, No 5)

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A Comparison of Korean and Japanese Scholars' attitudes toward newtonian science

Introduction

In nations of East Asia, western science, particularly modern science, has been considered as an essential prerequisite for their processes of modernization. Therefore, thosewho embraced and argued for the acceptance of facts and theories of western science have been considered pathfinders in their countries and have received much scholary and popular attention. On the other hand, those who resisted western science or struggled to defend traditional knowledge of nature have been labeled conservative. Forexample, Korean scholars who accepted the earths rotation, such as Kim Seokmun (1658-1735), Yi Ig (1681-1763), Hong Daeyong(1731-1783), and Choe Hangi(1803-1877), have received much attention. Likewise, early Japanese advocates of heliocentric world system, Motoki Ryoe (1735-1744), Shiba Kokan ة˰(1749-1818) and Shizuki Tadao (1760-1806), have received much scholarly attention and become objects of research.
Western science in premodern East Asia, however, was context-dependent knowledge. Instead of understanding it in its own western context, intellectuals of premodern East Asia reinterpreted western science according to their own intellectual tradition and natural philosophy. Therefore, before asking how early and how much an East Asian intellectual accepted western science, we must discover how it was understood in the East Asian context and what meaning was granted to it.
Intellectuals of pre-modern East Asia often gave new interpretations to western science and used elements of western science as ingredients of their own ingenious thinking and arguments. In particular, Choe Hangi ѻ(1803~1877) of Korea and Shizuki Tadao (1760-1806) of Japan even interpreted and reinterpreted universal Newtonian celestial mechanics according to their own intellectual contexts. Using the traditional East Asian concept of gi ⡱ as the base concept, the two men
reinterpreted concepts of Newtonian science and developed new and original thoughts in their natural philosophies.

In this paper, I will focus on the concept of gi, which had been used as a key concept in East Asian natural philosophy and with which the two intellectuals commonly engaged when they interpreted western science. I also focus on how the two intellectuals from Korea and Japan, respectively, perceived the concept of gravity, a key concept of the Newtonian mechanics. The similarities and differences will be seen from the strategies the two intellectuals employed when they evaluated Newtonian mechanics which concentrates only on mathematical descriptions of physical phenomena, neglecting the explanation of the origin of gravity and the physical mechanism of gravitational interaction. Lastly, the two intellectuals assessment of the concept of a supranatural God, the creator and authorizer of the universal order in the Newtonian science, will be compared.

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, Jun, Yong Hoon
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