The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 118)

Yulgok maintains, in his fifth letter to Ugye, that “human nature is what unites i and ki; only after i is in ki, is there human nature that we can speak of.” Nevertheless, he affirms the Cheng-Chu doctrine that “if one speaks of i without including physical form, it is called original human nature.” Yulgok states further: “Tzu-ssu and Mencius spoke of original human nature, whereas Cheng I and Chang Tsai spoke of physical human nature. Although the original human nature and the physical human nature are, in reality, one human nature, what is spoken of principally in each case is not the same… Human nature is always one. Certainly, Yulgok means to do full justice to the general agreement that Mencius singled out the original goodness of human nature as the Four, whereas Cheng I and Chang Tsai spoke of the physical human nature that already includes the original human nature in it. The following quotation taken from his sixth letter to Ugye illustrates his view of the oneness of human nature on the basis of Cheng Chu teachings: “Did Chu Hsi not say that ‘physical human nature is only this one nature that fell into physical endowment’? There is only one human nature in the context of physical endowment… From this point of view, physical human nature and original human nature are not two (different) natures. When viewed from a standpoint of referring to i only, without referring to the physical endowment of our nature, we call it the original human nature. However, when i and ki are spoken of together as a whole, we call it the physical human nature.”

Yulgok continues to articulate his argument by criticising Toegye’s mode of thinking in the following words: “Since human nature is already one, how can there be two (kind of) feelings? Only after there are two human natures, there can be two kinds of feelings. If Toegye’s dualistic interpretation is correct, the original human nature is at the east and the physical human nature is at the west. In other words, the moral mind is manifest from the east and the human mind from the west. How can this be right at such as i and ki. If there are two natures of the human being, this means incorrectly that there are two different kinds of feelings, the Four and the Seven. Hence, Toegye’s theory that the Four belong to the original human nature, whereas the Seven belong to the physical human nature is, Yulgok argues, unreasonable.

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