The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 67)

For this fundamental reason, Kobong argues that Toegye’s Four-Seven theory is not convincing because it analyses the Four and the Seven in terms of the i-ki dualism and the good-evil opposition and affirms i and ki as being independent from each other in both metaphysical and ethical contexts. In Kobong’s view, Toegye’s theory is wrong, for it not only affirms the Four and the Seven as two different kinds of feelings, but also implies that there are two different kinds of goodness, one belong to the Four and the other to the Seven. Kobong makes a concluding remark especially on learning: “Those who pursue learning should know that i cannot exist outside of ki. When ki is naturally manifest without excess and deficiency, it is actually (literally, ‘none other than’) the original substance of i. If one understands this fact well, while giving one’s full effort (to learning and self-cultivation), there will be no mistakes.” Explicit in Kobong’s argument means that “i cannot exist outside of ki” with regard to all concrete phenomena including feelings. As revealed in the preceding passages, this is not just a philosophical agreement, but also a moral argument expressed from a concrete standpoint of self-cultivation. It emphasises that what is called good necessarily involves one’s effort at maintaining harmonised feelings in the practice of self-cultivation. To put it in another way, Kobong means to justify his belief that the key to the Confucian “learning of the Way” (tohak) is emotional control and moral integration. The whole foundation of his argument is morally oriented emphasising one’s control of ki for self-cultivation. Indeed, this is a vital part of the entire Confucian tradition.

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