The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 66)

By selecting and explaining a few key quotations from Mencius, the Doctrine of the Mean, and Cheng-Chu teachings, Kobong carefully argues that good refers to “the original nature of heaven and earth,” and evil refers to the excessiveness or deficiency of “physical endowment.” For him, “the essence of i is nothing but what is naturally manifest when ki acts without any excess or deficiency.” Quoting Chu Hsi’s saying that “the mind unites i and ki,” he argues that “if ki obeys i, i is naturally manifest.” Toegye’s statement that “the issuance of the Four is good because it involves i only” is, in his view, incorrect. Kobong maintains, on the contrary, that the issuance of the Four involve both i and ki and that the Four are said to be good because, when they are aroused, i is undisturbed by ki. The issuance of the Seven can bring about either good or evil; evil arises when i is distributed by the activity of ki that can often be either excessive or deficient. This argument is somewhat based on Chu Hsi’s theory of the inseparability of i and ki in regard to concrete phenomena including the mind and feelings. Because “i is the master of ki, and ki is the material stuff of i,” it follows that i and ki can be conceptually distinct. And yet, Kobong maintains: “From the standpoint of things and phenomena, i and ki are intermingled with each other and, therefore, inseparable from each other.”

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