The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 135)


To Yulgok, Toegye did not understand the harmonious relationship between i and ki in all phenomena including feelings, and he lacked the originality of Hwadam’s thinking. But he still respects Toegye as a great scholar, praising his prudent approach to Neo-Confucian learning. The extreme type of Hwadam’s philosophy of ki is accused of having a lot of error, and his approach to learning is said to be much less sincere and serious than Toegye’s

The question is, why did Yulgok reject Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis? Undoubtedly, this is a significant moral issue in the Confucian context of self-cultivation. Philosophically speaking, what Yulgok intended to clarify is the mutual relationship of inseparability between i and ki from his epistemological standpoint of concrete phenomena. As he argues, for all aroused feelings, “what manifests is ki, and the reason for its manifestation is i.” In this context, then, it was obvious for him to reject Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis, especially his view that i is manifest in the issuance process of the Four. Yulgok, like Kobong, means that the Four-Seven issue cannot be understood in terms of the metaphysical dichotomy of i and ki and the ethical contrast between good and evil. His argument definatey affirms the Four-Seven relationship of continuum in such a context. this is why Yulgok rejects Toegye’s Four-Seven theory: in his view, it means that the Four and the Seven are two different kinds of feelings, each with its own origin and meaning to Neo-Confucian metaphysics and ethics, he emphasises emotional integration and the transformation of one’s ki as a practical way of self-cultivation. We shall examine this topic more closely in Chapter V. This concludes Yulgok’s Four-Seven thesis and brings us to the practical implications of Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis.

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