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Confucian Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism in Korea: The Significance of Filial Piety

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 March 2016

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Confucianism has been considered mainly to have had a negative influence on capitalistic development since Max Weber's theory on non-Western societies became widespread. However, in this article, we champion the positive role of Confucianism and attempt to explain Confucianism as providing fundamental “significance” to social development by imbuing it with religious significance. We present the self-sacrificing work ethic and zeal for education that characterizes Confucianism as having become the foundation for Korea's economic growth. In particular, we examine the religious significance inherent in the Confucian value of “filial piety” and illustrate how the value came to be a powerful economic motivator during the process of industrialization. The religious tendency of filial piety, which attempts to “remember” and “represent” one's ancestors, acted as an important spiritual ethos in Korea's social development centered on economic growth. Filial piety did not stop at being an ethical standard; it was the fundamental basis for macrosocial dynamism that was closely linked to the development of capitalism in Korea.

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