The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 142)

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More specifically, we have to understand it in the context of Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis. Toegye tried to convince Kobong that i represents moral virtues (like the Four), whereas ki represents physical-psychological emotions and desires (like the Four), whereas ki represents physical-psychological emotions and desires (like the Seven). This is why he warned Kobong to grasp a clear distinction of i rom ki in both the philosophical and moral contexts. He emphasised the Four-Seven distinction in terms of an ontological and conceptual i-ki dichotomy and an ethical good-evil contrast. His Four-Seven thesis is significant not only from a philosophical standpoint, but also in an ethical context. His holistic mission was to emphasise the transcendent, virtuous, and spiritual reality of i over the physical, emotional, and material reality of chi, insofar as the pure existence of i remains the original goodness of human nature, the indispensable potential for self-cultivation. Toegye’s philosophy of principle provides a philosophical and moral justification for the Mencian doctrine that human nature is naturally good as the Four Beginnings inherent in the mind-and-heart. For him, human nature, as principle, has to be an active, not passive, thing capable of manifesting itself in self-cultivation. Unlike Chu Hsi who emphasised the rationalistic “investigation of principles,” he has a stronger tendency for the self-realisation of principle. And his conviction was to take principle as the ultimate foundation of the Neo-Confucian learning for sagehood. this is why Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis and his other philosophical writings point to a philosophy of cultivating and nourishing i, not ki. Obviously, he fully committed himself to the practice of moral and spiritual self-cultivation in the tradition of Mencius and Cheng-Chu teachings. This is the focus of the next two sections.

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