The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 44)

The locus classicus for the Confucian term Seven Emotions (chilchong) is the Book of Rites according to which pleasure, anger, sorrow, fear, love, hatred, and desire are basic human feelings “not acquired through learning from the outside.” As this list is too long, the Doctrine of the MEan draws special attention to the first three and adds joy representing the Seven Emotions: “What Heaven imparts to human beings is called human natures. To follow human nature is the Way….Before (the emotions of ) pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are aroused, it is called equilibrium. When these are aroused and all of them attain their due degree and measure, it is called harmony. Equilibrium is the great foundation of the world; harmony is the universal path. When equilibrium and harmony are realised to the utmost degree, Heaven and Earth will achieve proper order and all things flourish.” According to these two quotations, the Seven Emotions refer to physical and mental states that are understood as basic human feelings and emotions in a natal, common sense. The Seven Emotions are not learned from the outside; however, they are still the aroused states of the mind and body in response to the external things. As the Doctrine of the Mean indicates, therefore, the way of mind cultivation demands a measure of control over them because their problem is excessiveness and disharmony. On the one hand, the purpose of self-cultivation is to retain the state of “equilibrium” before the Seven Emotions are aroused; on the other hand, it is to attain the state of “harmony” after they are aroused. This topic and its corruption with the Four BEginnings became one of the major issues in the Korean Four-Seven debates.

Note that we have no evidence to show that Mencius was aware of the idea of the “Seven Emotions” mentioned especially the Doctrine of the Mean. He never paid any special attention to the Seven Emotions. NEither did he relate his belief in the ontological and moral status of the Four BEginnings to the physical and mental characteristics of the Seven Emotions. According to Chu His, Tzu-ssu (Confucius’ grandson) wrote the Doctrine of the MEan and transmitted it to his disciple Mencius. Chu His and other Sung Neo-Confucians generally believed that the Mencian interpretation of the original goodness of human nature had came from Tzu-ssu, the alleged author of the Doctrine of the Mean; in other words, it was basically a further development of Tzu-ssu’s original theory of “HEaven-imparted human nature.” But modern scholarship on this subject suggests that the Doctrine of the Mean was written from a significantly different perspective that came later than the Book of Mencius. Both texts deal with the Confucian way of self-cultivation according to their own contexts. But the fundamental difference is that the former deals more with the early Confucian metaphysical psychology of emotional integration and self-cultivation in terms of the SevenEmotions, whereas the later address its moral theory of human nature and its ethical concerns in terms of the Four Beginnings.

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