The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 165)

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According to Yulgok’s Four-Seven thesis, the “original human nature” refers to its unmanifested state without evil; when it is manifest in feelings, it can have either good or evil. All human beings respect moral principles such as benevolence, righteousness, and so on; these kinds of feelings refer to the innate feelings of virtuous behaviour. And the state of acting on these moral principles refers to the moral mind. Also, the “individual physical needs” of human beings (e.g., the desire of food and comfort), although they commonly originate from the same human nature, are not necessarily moral virtues and, thus, refer to the human mind. The same argument is also evident in Yulgok’s Insim tosim tosol (Diagrammatic Treatise on the Human Mind and the Moral Mind), a work compiled few years after his Four-Seven debate with Ugye. Yulgok gives specific examples: “Aroused feelings include wanting to be filial to parents, wanting to be loyal to rulers, commiserating with a child falling into a well, having shame and dislike, discerning right and wrong, and showing courtesy and modesty when passing by an ancestral temple. These kinds of feelings are all aroused for moral rightness; therefore, they refer to the ‘moral mind.’ There are also those feelings like wanting to eat when hungry, wanting to put on clothes when cold, wanting to relax when tired, and wanting sex when one’s seaman is abundant. These kinds of feelings are aroused for specific physical needs; therefore, they refer to the ‘human mind.'” The moral mind and the human mind are the aroused states of deliberating for “moral principles” and “physical desires,” respectively. Though the mind is one, the former represents the moral and ethical realm of the mind, whereas the latter represents the psychological and physiological realm of the mind. The fundamental difference between them is that the moral mind is purely good because it accords with Heaven’s principle (that is, moral principles) and the human mind is either good or evil because it includes both Heaven’s principle and human desires. In Yulgok’s view, due to “the principle of human nature” all human beings eat when hungry and put on clothes when cold, and this is also true for the sages and worthies who cannot avoid doing these natural things. The sages are not different from ordinary people; however, they preserve the moral mind by overcoming selfish desires.

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