The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 64)

Kobong’s fundamental thesis is that the Seven represent the “totality” of all feelings because Mencius deliberately selected the Four a set of good feelings to refer to them as the “good side” of the Seven. In other words, the Four do not exist outside the Seven; they were mentioned by Mencius especially to explain his belief that human nature (song) is originally good and all human beings are good because they naturally possess the Four BEginnings of virtue or the “fourfold” mind-and-heart (sim). Kobong, of course, meant that, because the Four do not have their own ontological epistemology that the former cannot be spoken of separately from the latter and, therefore, must be discussed in the context of understanding the latter. Although he did not argue exactly in this way, his understanding of the Four-Seven relationship seems to correspond to Chu Hsi’s two brief statements that “the Seven Emotions cannot be separated from the Four BEginnings,” and that “the Four BEginnings can be understood rom the standpoint of the Seven Emotions.” Interestingly, however, Kobong was not aware of these statements by Chu Hsi.

Given the consistent patterns of Kobong’s Four-Seven thesis, it was reasonable for Kobong to argue that, instead of differentiating the Four and the Seven according to a metaphysical dichotomy of the i-ki opposition, the Four Seven should be taken as good feelings that constitute a good part of the Seven. In another passage, he criticises his fellow Neo-Confucians for mis-interpreting the Four-Seven issue: “Recently, scholars discuss the distinction of the Four Beginnings and the Seven Emotions, without seeing carefully the question of why Mencius intended to single out the good side (of the Seven).” For Kobong, the Four BEginnings must “come from the totality of the Seven Emotions and are those feelings that attain due degree and measure”; that is to say, the Four are good “harmonised feelings” of the Seven.

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