The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 63)

Kobong’s Challenge to Toegye;
The Continuum of the Four and the Seven

In his response to Toegye’s question, Kobong wrote a through and convincing three-page critique of the dualistic tendency implicit in Toegye-s thinking. In this first letter to Toegye’ he maintained that the Four Beginnings (the mind-and-heart of commiseration, the mind-and-heart of shame and dislike, the mind-and-heart of courtesy and modesty, and the mind-and-heart of discernment of right and wrong) and the Seven Emotions (Pleasure, anger, sorrow, fear, one, hatred, and desire) are all basic human feelings (chong). In other words, the Book of Rites, Mencius, and Doctrine of the MEan all refer to a theory of feelings. Kobong argues:

Tzu-ssu’s saying (in the Doctrine of the Mean) referred to the totality (of all feelings), and Mencius singled out (the Four BEginnings). In general, human nature is the unaroused mind-and-heart, and feelings are the aroused mind-and-heart. Fundamentally speaking, human nature is always good, whereas feelings involve both good and evil. What Tzu-ssu and Mencius each intended to mean is not the same; there is only a simple distinction between the Four and the Seven. But it is not that outside of the Seven Emotions, there are the Four BEginnings. If we say (as Chong has said) that “the Four BEginnings are manifest from i and, therefore, purely good; the Seven Emotions are manifest from ki and, accordingly, can have either good or evil,” then we mean that i and ki are certainly two things in opposition to each other. Furthermore, this implies that the Seven Emotions do not come from human nature, and the Four BEginnings do not ride on ki. This is, of course, wrong in wording, and later scholars will have doubts about it. Your revised theory that “the manifestation of the Four Beginnings involves purely i and, therefore, does not have any evil; the manifestation of the Seven Emotions involves ki also and, accordingly, have both good and evil” is, in my view, still unsatisfactory, although it is a little better than the previous theory (Chong’s original statement).

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