The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 121)


Yulgok continues to argue that Chu Hsi must have meant something by his statement that “the Four Beginnings are manifestations of i; the Seven Emotions are manifestations of i; the Seven Emotions are manifestations of ki.” But Chu Hsi would not expert later scholars (like Toegye) to overemphasise the Four-Seven contrast in the dichotomous system of i and ki. It is important to grasp the real meaning of Chu Hsi’s statement: “What Chu Hsi intended to mean is simply that in the case of the Four Beginnings, only i is spoken of, whereas in the case of the Seven Emotions, ki is spoken together (with i). He did not mean that in the case of the Four Beginnings, i is manifest first, whereas in the case of the Seven Emotions, ki is manifest first.”

Embedded in this passage is that Toegye misunderstood Chu Hsi’s theory and, in turn, formulated his hobal theory that destroys the fundamental doctrine of the inseparability of i and ki in concrete phenomena including feelings. In his third letter to Ugye, Yulgok accepts only the last half of Toegye’s hobal theory that “in the case of the Seven Emotions, ki is manifest and i rides on it.” He argues that this is true for the Four BEginnings also. This argument, of course, is founded on Yulgok’s cosmological view that, in the transformation of all concrete phenomena, “what is manifest (palcha) is ki, and the reason for its manifestation (soi palcha) is i.” In other words, in the process of issuing feelings such as the Four and the Seven, ki is what becomes manifest. He argues strongly that this is the earlier Confucian scholars’ opinion, and “even if a sage arises again, he cannot dare change this statement.” “Without ki, nothing can manifest; without i, there is nothing manifested.” In the Mencian context, this statement can be illustrated by the following example: when we see a child falling into a well, the actual rising of our feeling of commiseration is due to the activity of ki, and what makes us feel such a moral principle of commiseration is i. Yulgok prefers Kobong’s argument over Toegye’s: “The Four-Seven debate between Toegye and Kobong has as many as 10,000 words. Kobong’s argument is clear… Although Toegye’s argument is detailed, it is too repetitive and often unclear in principle; it has no real taste. But how can Kobong’s learning be compared to Toegye’s at all? It is only that Kobong had some talent and knowledge and understood the Four and the Seven.”

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