The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 139)

This is, as we have seen, vividly evident in his Four-Seven debate with Kobong on the moral and psychological philosophy of mind, human nature, and feelings, one that led Toegye to reexamine the whole idea of principle in the context of its implications for self-cultivation. He had to accept the fundamental inseparability between i and ki in concrete phenomena including feelings (the Four Beginnings and the Seven Emotions). In his first and second letters to Kobong, he said that “i and ki need each other and are emerged one into the other” and that “how can there be i without ki? In the universe, there is no i without ki.” He made a clear-cut distinction of i and ki more explicitly than Chu Hsi did: “Regarding Heaven, Earth, human beings, and things, it is not that i exists outside of ki. And yet, i and ki can be spoken of separability… Why can we not talk about i and ki separately?” “What is spoken of is not the same, and there should be a distinction between them.” Toegye pointed out that, although i and ki are inseparable in things, this relationship, however, “does not necessarily mean that i and ki are not distinct.” Criticizing Kobong’s strict emphasis on their inseparability in all phenomena, Toegye argued that one must distinguish i from ki from a standpoint of “separation.”

In his other philosophical writings, Toegye explained i and ki in the same fashion. For example, in the pi iki wi ilmil pyonchung (Treatise on the Saying That “I and Ki Are Not One”), Toegye, like Chu Hsi, states: “The distinction of the Way (Tao) and the concrete things is the same as that of i and ki.” He also argues elsewhere: “Principle neither integrates nor disintegrates,” and it “has neither Physical form nor body.” “Things are physical, whereas principle complete in them is metaphysical.” Because principle never ends and is not limited by material force, it is “the highest reality” that “commends things without being commended by them.” For Toegye, i is “high,” whereas ki is “low.” The entire undifferentiated state of principle before particularisation is “i-in-itself and not confined to material force or limited by things.” Ki is purely physical and materialistic, whereas i is more fundamental and important than ki. For this reason, Tomoeda Ryutaro correctly notes that i and i and ki are, in Toegye’s view, dialectical and opposed to each other. Undoubtedly, Toegye formulated an explicitly dualistic system of i and ki.

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