The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 56)

Questions and Issues Raised in the Korean Four-Seven Debates

Toegye, Yulgok, and their challenger addressed a number of challenging philosophical questions and moral issues in a hairsplittings, sophisticated way, citing the entire Confucian literature including Cheng-Chu commentaries. The goal was, of course, to understand a meaningful philosophical, ethical, and psychological link between the Four and the Seven, which had not been articulated clearly by the Chinese thinkers. Add to the general linguistic ambiguities the fact the the Four-Seven debates took place during the sixteenths century, when the philosophical development of Korean Neo-Confucianism was reaching its peak under the leadership of Toegye, Yulgok, and others.

A key issue that simulated Toegye, Yulgok, and their challengers was why Mencius singled out the Four Beginnings as evidence to explain the fundamental Confucian creed that “human nature” (song) is originally good. Although Mencius described the Four as “feelings” (chong) in general, the ambiguity definitely lies in the fact that he referred to them specifically in terms of the “mind-and-heart” (sim). For example, he emphasised the spontaneous and natural rise of the “mind-and-heart of commiseration” when “one sees a child falling into a well.” The Korean were highly curious about how Mencius’ doctrine of the original goodness of human nature-characterised by the virtues of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom-should be understood in terms of what he calls the Four Beginnings, such as commiseration, shame and dislike, courtesy and modesty, and right and wrong, to which the mind-and-heart is referred.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

London United Korean Fan Club

London United Japanese Fan Club