The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 103)


To defend Toegye’s Four-Seven theory that feelings can be spoken of in terms of i or ki, Ugye appends his own view that it is logically correct to discuss the Four and theSeven in terms of the “moral mind” (tosim) and the “human mind” (insim), respectively. The locus classics for the ideas of the “moral mind” and the “human mind” is the so-called Sixteen Character Transmission of the Mind-and-Heart, an obscure passage from the Book of History, which reads: “The human mind is precarious; the moral mind is subtle. Remain refined and single-minded. Hold fast to the Mean.” This instruction of sage-king Shun to his successor Yu contracts the precariousness of the human mind with the subtlety of the moral mind; it emphasises the necessity of mind cultivation with a “refined and single-minded” concentration to hold on to the truth of equilibrium before feelings are aroused. It was, of course, taken by Chu His, as well as by his followers like the late Sung scholar Chen Te-hsiu, as a short formula of the Neo-Confucian philosophy of mind cultivation.

We can recall here that, according to Chu Hsi’s philosophy, the moral mind is aroused from “the correctness of heaven and destiny,” whereas the human mind is aroused from “selfishness identified with physical form.” The former is described as “subtle,” “impartial,” and “good,” whereas the latter as “partial” and “prone to error,” involving both “good and evil.” Furthermore, the human mind refers to our physical feelings and sensations such as the mouth’s desire for taste and the eye’s desire for colour, whereas the moral mind refers to moral principles and virtues such as benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom. According to Chu Hsi’s formulae, then, the moral mind is the unaroused state of the mind in itself that is pure and always good; the human mind is the aroused state of the mind mixed with desires that includes both good and evil. But Chu His never discussed the moral mind and the human mind with respect to the Four and the Seven, and this is a significant area of the Four-Seven debate between Ugye and Yulgok. Neither did Toegye discuss the Four-Seven contrast specifically in terms of the moral mind and the human mind. This was a real problem of Ugye’s interpretation to the extent that Yulgok criticised not only Ugye’s way of thinking, but even Toegye for causing such an unreasonable influence on Ugye.

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