The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 74)

Toegye was well aware of the Cheng-Chu doctrine that i and ki are inseparable from each other in concrete things and phenomena; however, he chose to emphasise that one must not neglect another fundamental point that each of i and ki is “an entity in itself.” After seeing Chu Hsi’s Four-Seven statement in the Chu Tzu yu-lei (Classified Conversations of Master Chu), he became even more confident and made a naive but strong statement to praise Chu Hsi and to support his own argument: “I have recently read the Chu Tzu yu-lei… According to it, ‘the Four Beginnings are manifestations of i and the Seven Emotions are manifestations of ki.’ Did the ancient people not say, ‘Do not trust yourself, but trust your teacher.’ Chu Hsi is my teacher who is respected by the whole world. After reflecting myself on this saying, I now believe that Chong Chi-un’s statement and my explanation are not absurd.” In Toegye’s view, the four are “purely good” and, therefore, should be expressed “principally by i,” whereas the Seven are capable of becoming good or evil and, therefore, should be expresses “principally by ki.” Accordingly, there is nothing wrong with Chu Hsi’s saying that “the Four Beginnings are manifestations of i and the Seven Emotions are manifestations of ki.”

On the whole Toegye’s vocabulary suggests what we may call a dualistic interpretation of the Four-Seven issue. There are several fundamental reasons for this: first, his Four-Seven thesis definitely affirms that i and ki are distinct from, and unmixable with, each other; second, in the same manner it interprets the Four ad the Seven as to different realms of human feelings; third, when understood in the context of i and ki, the Four-Seven contrast is identical to the original nature-physical nature contrast; and finally, one should comprehend it in terms of origin, meaning, and quality. In these contexts, then, toegye meant to do full justice to what appears to be a dualistic standpoint. Hence, we can qualify our use of the term dualistic in analysing the basic philosophical position of his Four-Seven thesis; in fact, it originates partly from Chu Hsi’s own reasoning. Unlike Kobong’s non dualistic position, the underlying theme of Toegye’s thesis focuses on his strong commitment to maintaining the unmixability and distinction between i and ki.

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