The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 51)

Given this consistent pattern of Chu Hsi’s philosophy of li and chi, it was reasonable for him to assert that the Four are manifest rom li, and the Seven from chi. Commenting on Chu Hsi’s theory, Tang Chun-i, a contemporary Chinese scholar, makes an interesting but unclear point: the Four and the Seven can be distinguished in terms of “human nature characterised by feelings” and “stimulated feelings,” respectively. Of course, Tang argues that the former means “moral feelings,” and the latter “the selfishness of human desires.” This can be explained in the following manner: because the Four, as emphasised by Mencius, are innate, moral expressions of the original goodness of human nature, it follows that they must be aroused by li; by contrast, the Seven must be aroused by chi because they, as mentioned in the Doctrine of the MEan, are physical feelings and mental emotions that are capable of becoming good or evil depending on their harmony or excessiveness, respectively. According to Chu Hsi, the mind-and-heart itself is where li and chi are united. To him, then, feelings can be the manifestation of either li or chi. Because both the Four and the Seven are all human feelings, Chu His might have assumed that those moral feelings aroused by li should be represented by the Four, whereas those physical and mental emotions aroused by chi, which may not be fundamentally virtuous, should be represented by the Seven. This issue became another main topic in the Korean Four-Seven debates.

On the whole, Chu His paid more attention to the Mencian understanding of the Four Beginnings. But this becomes much more complex in the context of his philosophy of mind-and-heart, human nature, and feelings. Chu Hsi provided a sophisticated explanation by taking as a basic precept Chang Tsai’s assertion that “the mind-and-heart commands human nature and feelings.” To convince the Mencian creed that human nature is originally good, just as water naturally flows downward, Chu Hsi utilised Cheng I’s theories that “human nature is principle (i)” and that “that which is inherent in things is called principle, and that which is endowed in human beings is called human nature.” For Chu Hsi, human nature is principle and full of moral and spiritual goodness inherent in the mind-and-heart, and all the principles inherent in the mind-and-heart, and all the principles inherent in the mind-and-heart are, therefore, called human nature. The mind-and-heart serves as “the master of the self.”

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