The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 73)

The question is why.In Toegye’s view, the Four are all good because they are expressed by i; therefore, Mencius said that “a person without the mind-and-heart of the Four BEginnings is not human.” The Seven are either good or evil because they are expressed by ki, so it is said that, if they all “attain their due measure and degree after they are aroused, it is called harmony.” Toegye believes that although Kobong understood the relationship between i and ki, he went too far in stressing only their inseparability, without acknowledging their distinction:

We know that the Four BEginnings and the Seven Emotions are not outside of i and ki. But in each case, there is what is principally referred to as origin and what is principally important. why can we not say that something belongs to i, while something belongs to ki? You have carefully observed and strongly argued that i and ki move each other and are inseparable from each other. You also think that there is no ki without i and no i without ki, saying that the Four Beginnings and the Seven Emotions do not have different meanings. Even though this is almost correct, it still has some inadequacy when I compare it with the opinions of the former sages and worthies.

The vocabulary presented in this quotation suggests Toegye’s view that Kobong was mistaken in asserting that the Four and the Seven do not have different origins and meanings. In other words, they are different in both ontological and conceptual contexts. Toegye was, of course, concerned with the orthodox tradition of the classical texts, including Cheng-Chu teachings. He informs Kobong further: “In discussing ‘equilibrium’ and ‘harmony,’ Tzu-ssu mentioned pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy but did not quite include the Four Beginnings in his explanation… Cheng I talked about (the Seven Emotions such as) pleasure, anger, sorrow, fear, love, hatred, and desire, but he too did not pay any significant attention to the Four Beginnings. This indicates that i and ki need each other and are ‘merged one into the other (in concrete phenomena).’ And yet, this does not necessarily mean that i and ki are not distinct.”

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