The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 4)

In the introductory chapter of philosophical background, I address some textually subtle passages and theoretically ambiguous points of the Chinese Confucian tradition. This is done by examining the early Confucian texts and Cheng-Chu Neo-Confucian commentaries. Furthermore, the key philosophical questions and moral and other related issues raised in the Korean Four-Seven controversy are listed and briefly discussed; these questions and issues, constitute the centrality and vitality of Toegye’s and Yulgok’s philosophies. This can facilitate the reader in following other chapters.

The four main chapters are tightly structured and connected by means of a clearly headed combination of comprehensive method, textual documentation, philosophical analysis, and systematic interpretation. To address the specific aspects of the Four-Seven thesis and its related topics. I discuss the link between Neo-Confucian metaphysics and ethics, between philosophical doctrines and moral practices, and between theoretical goals and practical methods. The second chapters discuss the meaning and role of human nature, mind, and feelings and their problems for self0cultivation, as well as their relationship with Neo-Confucian metaphysics of i/li (principle) and ki/chi (material force). The fourth and fifth chapters present the implications of the Four-Seven thesis in the Neo-Confucian context of self-cultivation and related matters, such as learning, sage hood, Toegye’s religious thought, and Yulgok’s ethic-political thought. These two chapters analyse the ways in which each man’s interpretations moved beyond the textual and theoretical norms of the subject matters.

Whenever appropriate or relevant, I gave my own interpretation. But most of my own opinions and insights are presented in the last three chapters, especially the concluding chapter. the readers can seriously consider some of the philosophical assumptions and moral argument behind Korean Neo-Confucinaism. I should also point out that I have limited myself to few brief, noted indications of certain parallels especially between Yulgok’s theory of emotion and well-known Western philosophers’ theories of emotion. A good deal of comparative analysis can be made between two Korean thinkers and those of the Western European tradition regarding human nature and emotions. However, such a task cannot be adequately covered in this book due to its limited scope and focus. Accordingly, a comprehensive presentation of the Korean Four-Seven thesis is more relevant here within the context of Neo-Confucianism.

The concluding chapter interprets the results of the preceding chapters, especially in terms of certain similarities and differences between Toegye and Yulgok. This is done by comparing and contrasting at closer range their philosophies, while making necessary references to Chu His and other Chinese and Japanese Neo-Confucian. A critical analysis of certain methodological and theoretical problems evident in both thinkers is presented. From a comparative perspective, this chapter also points out the uniqueness of each thinker’s Four-Seven philosophy and its relevant contribution to the Neo-Confucian tradition as a whole. It argues that Toegye and Yulgok made two valuable contributions to the transformation of Korean Neo-Confucianism: the former’s inner-directed, contemplative approach with its ethic-spiritual tendency and the latter’s outer-directed, active approach with its ethic-political overtones. Finally the question that we need to address is, Are the implications of the Korean Four-Seven thesis still relevant for us in the modern world?

Supplementary information is presented in the Appendices, including Toegye’s and Yulgok’s explanatory diagrams on human nature and feeling and two brief annotated, chronological lists of Toegye’s writings and Yulgok’s writings cited in this book. The Glossary gives the major philosophical terms, personal names, and book titles presented in the text and notes. Finally, the Bibliography offers both primary sources and modern secondary works in the Korean, Chinese, and Japanese languages and a few English works including translations and articles. For connivence, the Chinese characters are given for the East Asian authors’ names, as well as for the tiles of their early or modern works.

I hope that this book makes a scholarly contribution in several ways. My translation, analysis, and interpretation make clear that, for both Toegye and Yulgok, the breath and depth of the Four-Seven thesis are the unifying Confucian thread for understanding the fundamental questions and issues that extend from Neo-Confucian metaphysics through its moral philosophy and Psychology to the practice of self-cultivation and its related matters. I believe this book offers the first comprehensive and systematic study in English of the two leading Korean Neo-Confucians as an integrated philosophy for the Confucian way of life. Providing its readers with a conceptual vocabulary essential to any careful understanding of Neo-Confucianism, it can clarify and extend our present knowledge about Korean Neo-Confucianism. To generalists in humanities and social sciences, it presents a few critical points about the fundamental controversy on the relationship between mind, human nature, and emotions in the practice of philosophical reasoning and moral self-cultivation that are still relevant to our own philosophies of life and culture. Regardless of academic discipline, one can appreciate that the basic concepts and their practical implications discussed in this book are significant for both Neo-Confucianism and Korean thought. To specialists in East Asian philosophy, religion, or intellectual history, the book offers certain insights about not only Neo-Confucianism in general, but also the Korean tradition in particular. One can understand the Korean contribution to the development of East Asian thought. Those specialists in Korean studies will find this volume useful in studying the Korean Neo-Confucianism of Toegye and Yulgok, with a broader and deeper comprehension of its Four-Seven thesis. More studies are yet to be done. I hope that this volume will shed some refreshing light on the essential philosophical, moral, and cultural features of the topic that may go beyond the scope and focus of my own investigation. I also hope that it will stimulate others to undertake more specialised studies of Korean Neo-Confucianism or its related res.

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