The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 119)


In his Non simsongchong (A Treatise on Mind, Human Nature, and Feelings), Yulgok asserts that the Four pertain to the original human nature, and the physical human nature simply refers to the original human nature contained in the physical endowment. The original human nature and the physical human nature are not two separate natures of a human beings; similarly, we do not have two different kinds of feelings. Analogically speaking, Yulgok del acres, it is like the relationship between the “container” and “water”: human nature is like the water, and its physical endowment is like the container. Using this analogy, he distinguishes “three grades of human beings” based on the purity of physical endowment: “Those who have water in the clear and pure container are the sages; those who have sand and soil are ordinary people; and those who have only mud are the people of the lowest class.” The original human nature is “the unmanifested state” of human nature that is not mixed with evil; however, the “manifest state” of human is the physical endowment of human nature that gives rise to both good and evil.” On the whole, Yulgok means that physical human nature is not a separate nature because original human nature already exists inside of it and that, in the concrete sense of reality, the former refers to human nature, Like Lo Chin-shun and Kobong, he emphasises that “two names” are used in describing one single human nature from two angles: the original human nature and the physical human nature are “one in union.” For this reason, he rejects Toegye’s assertion that the Four, which are purely good, should be represented by the original human nature, and the Seven, which are either good or evil, should be expressed by the physical human nature. Yulgok’s conclusion is that to a single nature, one cannot, as Toegye has done, apply two terms separately, using them as the two distinct origins of the Four and the Seven.

In short, embedded in Yulgok’s whole interpretation underscores that following points: first, the Seven include the Four; second, both the Four and the Seven are issued from the physical human nature; and third, the difference between them is whether or not these feelings become harmonised. This, then, brings us to Yulgok’s critique of Toegye’s Four-Seven theory of “alternate manifestation.”

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