The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 141)

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However, the crucial question that we must address here is, Why did Toegye formulate such a contradictory theory of i? Also, what does he mean by arguing that i can manifest itself itself in the Four Beginnings? This is really the key issue that we need to comprehend in the context of his Four-Seven thesis in particular. As far as my own reading is concerned, Toegye was aware of the fact that the dynamism of cosmic transformation is reserved, in Chu Hsi’s philosophy, only to ki. Strictly speaking, however, he was not always consistent in explaining the relationship of i and ki with respect to Chu Hsi’s metaphysics. He had to face the challenging problem of interpreting the crucial issue of whether or not principle, which is fundamentally a metaphysical and static concept, can manifest itself in the practice of self-cultivation. For this profound reason, Toegye wanted to do full justice to his belief that i must necessarily have priority ob=ver ki in terms of both ontological and ethical contexts.

As de Bary correctly observes, Toegye’s synthesis of Cheng-Chu Neo-Confucian thought emphasises “the moral and spiritual aspects of principles.” Obviously, the remark is relevant to our further discussion of Toegye’s philosophy of self-cultivation. One can also argue that Toegye emphasised the ‘spontaneous issuance” of i as “something active,” not “something passive” in moral practice. As the ultimate “commander of things” (to use Toegye’s own terminology), i should be understood as “commander of things” (to use Toegye’s own terminology), i should be understood as “the moral master.” Perhaps, Toegye argued from his experiences, and self-cultivation. Surely, he considered i as “a practical moral substance.” In other words, Toegye’s theory of the self-governing manifestation of i must be addressed in terms of his own understanding of self-cultivation.

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