The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 60)

In such a process, another crucial issue focused on the Confucian way of understanding the Four-Seven connection in terms of “good” and “evil,” which had not been articulated by Chinese Neo-Confucians. Both Toegye and Yulgok asked, Why does a human being whose nature is fundamentally good become evil in some cases? This question was debated seriously in the spirit of two classical perspectives, notably, the Mencian doctrine that the Four Beginnings are innate, moral characteristics of “the original goodness of human nature,” and the thesis in the Doctrine of the Mean that the Emotions can be either good or evil depending on whether or t=not they are properly harmonised according to “due measure and degree.” Furthermore, this issue, of course, relates to the fundamental Cheng-Chu doctrine that, although human nature is always full of goodness and moral principles backed up by i, one can become evil if one’s physical endowment is distributed by turbid ki, which can cause selfish desires, or if one’s mind-and-heart does not control one’s emotions and feelings.

Yet another major issue dealt with the Four-Seven problem in term of what Sung-Neo-Confucians call original (human) nature (pony on chi song) and physical (human) nature (kijil chi song). According to Chu Hsi’s philosophy, human nature is fundamentally one. On the one hand, when human nature is spoken of as undistributed by ki or unmixed with physical endowment, it is called original human nature (“human nature in itself”), which consists of good (i) only; on the other hand, when viewed from a concrete standpoint of physical endowment, it is called physical human nature, which includes both good and evil, consisting of i and ki together. For the Korean scholars, however, the critical subject was whether or not he Four-Seven relationship could be interpreted in the same manner. That is to say, do the Four belong to the original human nature and the Seven to the physical human nature? And can the former be viewed as something included inside the latter, just as the physical human nature includes the original human nature?

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