The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 57)

The fundamental question was, If both the Four BEginnings and the Seven Emotions are basic human feelings, why make any distinction between them, using two different terms? Commenting on Toegye’s Four-Seven debate with Kobong, Michael Kalton correctly points out that whether the Four and the Seven are “only different names for the same reality looked at from differing perspectives, or rather truly point to some differentiation in the condition whence they arise” was a central issue. More specifically, this issue had to deal with whether the Four-Seven relationship is purely arbitrary or has important philosophical meanings and moral implications. In other words, do the Four Beginnings (mentioned by Mencius) and the Seven Emotions (mentioned in the Doctrine of the Mean and Book of Rites) point to the two separate realms of human feelings? What about any meaningful connection between them? As Tu Wei-ming point outs, “Surely there is a meaningful connection between the two realms. The whole intellectual enterprise of the ‘Four-Seven’ debate, after all, was to define clearly what the connection is.”

For Toegye and Yulgok, a fascinating question was whether the meaning and implication of the Four BEginnings are superior to those of the Seven Emotions from a conceptual and moral standpoint. It was the issue of addressing any ontological possibility that the Four Beginnings belongs to a special group of moral feelings that exist independent of the Seven Emotions. In relation to this issue, another question was weather both the Four and the Seven are identically aroused by external stimuli and conditions and, therefore, have to be controlled by the mind-and-heart in the same way. For the Korean thinkers, these questions and issues were significant for addressing not only the Four-Seven relationship from a philosophical standpoint, but also its implications for self-cultivation in an ethic-spiritual context.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

London United Korean Fan Club

London United Japanese Fan Club