The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 122)


In this passage, Yulgok claims that Toegye’s interpretation of Chu Hsi’s theory is not as convincing as Kobong’s, though it is more detailed than the latter. He criticises Toegye’s theory for implying that “the Four BEginnings are issued from the inside, whereas the Seven Emotions are issued from the outside.” Another quotation from Yulgok’s third letter to Ugye conveys Yulgok’s view of external stimuli in the issuance of all feelings: “How can there be any feelings aroused from the inside with no external stimulation? What is perceived has goo or evils… If what is issued from the inside independently without the external stimulation is taken to be the Four Beginnings, this means that filial piety is aroused without the presence of parents, loyalty is aroused without the presence of ruler, and reverence is aroused without the presence of elder brothers. Would these be our real feelings?” Speaking in the MEncian sense, Yulgok then argues that commiseration is aroused after “one sees a child falling into a well.” What is sensed or perceived is the child who is an external stimulus. “How can there be commiseration aroused by itself without seeing a child falling into a wall? If there is, it would not be a real feeling.”

Comparing Toegye with the Ming Chinese Neo-Confucian Lo Chin-shun, Yulgok criticises the former for separating i and ki in terms of his hobal theory. The following passage taken from his third letter to Ugye illustrates his argument further: “A brilliant scholar like Lo Cheng-an (Chin-shun) with outstanding thought committed a small flaw in his view that i and ki are one. Toegye’s learning is refined, detailed, prudent, and dense; there is no other man like Toegye in recent years. Nonetheless, (the first half of) his theory that ‘i is manifest and ki follows’ (in the issuance of the four) also has some flaw in the sense that it tends to assert the priority and posteriority for i and ki. When I heard it before master Toegye passed away, I knew it was wrong. However, because I was younger than him, and my learning was inferior to his, I did not dare challenge him.”

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