The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 42)

Philosophical Introduction:
The Fruitful Four-Seven Legacy

The Four-Seven debates in Korea raised a number of challenging questions and significant issues. In a sophisticated and comprehensive way, Toegye, Yulgok, and their challengers examined the existing Confucian literature including Cheng-Chu Neo-Confucian texts and commentaries. They concentrated their debates on understanding and interpreting not only textual ambiguities and philosophical questions about the Confucian ideas of the “Four Beginnings” of virtue and the “Seven Emotions,” but also their specific moral-psychological meanings and implications for the practice of self-cultivation, which had not been articulated clearly in the Chinese Confucian tradition.

The Locus Classicus for the Ideas of the Four Beginnings and the Seven Emotions

The Confucian term Four BEginnings (sedan/ssu-tuan) originally comes from a famous passage in the Book of Mencius:

A Person without the :mind-and-heart” (sim/hsin) of commiseration is not human; a person without the mind-and-heart of shame and dislike is not human; a person without the mind-and-heart of courtesy and modesty is not human; and a person without the mind-and-heart of right and wrong is not human. The mind-and-heart of commiseration is the beginning of benevolence; the mind-and-heart of shame and dislike is the beginning of righteousness; the mind-and-heart of courtesy and modesty is the beginning of propriety; and the mind-and-heart of (moral discernment of) right and wrong is the beginning of wisdom. All human beings have these Four Beginnings (sedan/ssu-tuan) just as they have their four limbs. If one who has the Four Beginnings is unable (to develop them), one destroys oneself.

In this vigorous passage, Mencius referred specifically to the human “mind=and-heart” (sim/hsin) of commiseration, that of shame and dislike, that of courtesy and modesty, and that of moral discernment of right and wrong as the Four Beginnings of such key Confucian virtues as benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom.

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