The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 106)


Responding to Ugye’s view of the Four-Seven relationship in terms of the moral mind and the human mind, Yulgok states: “The Four BEginnings refer to the moral mind, while the Seven Emotions refer to the moral mind and the human mind together as a whole.” The Four are to be understood as “the good side of the moral mind and the human mind together.” In other words, because the mind is one, it follows for Yulgok that the moral mind that pertains to the Four is included inside of the human mind and the Seven includes both the moral mind and the human mind as a whole. This interpretation is quite different from Ugye’s explanation, which divides the Four and the Seven antithetically into the moral mind and the human mind separated from each other. One’s innate virtuous behaviour comes from the Seven are included in the human mind. According to Yulgok, then, Toegye’s interpretation is incorrect because the Seven include both the moral mind and the human mind. In the Insim tosim tosol as well, he argues that the Seven are “the whole name of the human mind and the moral mind, good and evil,” criticising Toegye for considering the Four as the moral mind and the Seven as the human mind.

Yulgok makes a strong point, in his seventh letter to Ugye, that Toegye was wrong in considering the moral mind and the human mind antithetically as inner manifestation and outer manifestation respectively: “On the whole, Toegye referred to internal manifestations as the moral mind and external feelings as the human mind. On the contrary, I believe that the human mind and the moral mind are both manifest from inside, and both are stimulated by external feelings.” In the strict sense, however, Yulgok’s criticism is not justifiable in the textual context. Toegye, in his Four-Seven debate with Kobong and in his other writings, did not explicitly discuss the Four and the Seven in terms of two kinds of the mind. Instead, in articulating the Cheng-Chu way of self-cultivation, he generally followed Chu Hsi’s philosophy that the human mind is aroused from “selfishness identified with the physical form,” whereas the moral mind is founded on “moral principles.” Toegye emphasised a distinction between the moral mind and the human mind in terms of the metaphysical i-ki contrast and the ethical good-evil opposition. For him, evil is due to “selfish desire” caused by the human mind mixed with ki. The path to self-cultivation requires the command of one’s moral mind over the instability of one’s human mind, so that one can control the selfish desires issued from the human mind. In other words, it also involves one’s nourishment of moral principles associates with the Four. As mentioned before, this is the basic philosophical and moral basis of Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis.

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