The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 123)


Yulgok also argues that the problem of Ugye’s interpretation is that he blindly follows Toegye’s hobal theory that incorrectly affirms the self-manifesting capability of i. Ugye defends Toegye again by citing the rider-horseparable used by Toegye. In his fourth letter to Ugye, Yulgok points out that Chu Hsi set up the words to help other people understand. “How can i and ki, which are inseparable and merged on with the other, manifest themselves alternately?” Yulgok makes a strong point that if Chu Hsi really considered i and ki as capable of manifesting themselves alternately, he is not only making a big mistake, but also does not deserve so much respect as master Chu Hsi. To Ugye, however, earlier Confucian thinker referred to humanity and righteousness as the “manifestation of ki.” Ugye challenges Yulgok’s critique of Toegye’s hobal theory: “Although they (i and ki) are one, they are to be spoken of in terms of what is important. In other words, this refers to what Toegye meant by ‘alternate manifesting,’ or your saying that ‘the horse obeys the rider in some cases or the rider trusts the horse in other cases.'” In Ugye’s view, aroused feelings can be spoken of in terms of i and ki because some feelings are founded on i, and some on ki; therefore, one can speak of the Four and the Seven by referring to either i or ki. To Yulgok, however, Toegye’s hobal theory is mistaken in language itself: “Toegye’s opinion that what issues from the inside and what is felt outside are distinct is very much different from my own view.” Consequently, Toegye’s belief that i can manifest itself is unacceptable. In the issuance process of both the Four and the Seven, ki is manifest and i is the reason for its manifestation. This is the key point that Yulgok maintained throughout his entire Four-Seven thesis. In his Insim tosim tosol, he says: “How can there be any distinction between the manifestation of i and the manifestation of ki?” In the Simsongchong sol, he also argues: “The Four BEginnings refer exclusively to i, whereas the Seven Emotions refer to i and ki combined. But scholars (like Toegye) took i and ki to manifest themselves alternately.”

Obviously, Yulgok’s emphasis is on the role of ki in all phenomena including the issuance of the Four and the Seven. In contrast to Toegye, he makes no attempt to relate the Four to the manifestation of i because, by doing so, the “passive” nature of i as “the reason for ki’s manifestation” will be confused with the “active” nature of ki. As the focus of the next section, we need to examine this crucial part of his Four-Seven thesis in terms of the inseparability and harmony of i and ki.

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