The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 77)

Kobong’s Second Challenge:
The Inseparability of I and Ki and the Oneness of Human Nature

In the summer of 1560, more than a year after he had sent his preliminary letter to Toegye, Kobong wrote to a systematic forty-two page and twelve-point critique that analyses Toegye’s first letter point by point. Before reformulating his Four-Seven position, he first makes an interesting insight that any references to “orthodox” interpretations of the classical texts (including those by Chu Hsi) need to be supplemented by personal views and reflections. He seems to have meant that the whole purpose of his debate with Toegye was to clarify the apparent legacy of fretful ambiguity at the the heart of Cheng-Chu orthodoxy. In other words, the Four-Seven debate had to serve a wellspring of creative thought among those (like Toegye ) who avowed that orthodoxy and those (like Kobong) who wanted to move beyond it.

Generally speaking, however, Kobong agrees with Toegye that the Four mentioned by Mencius refer to “good feelings” aroused by i, and that those feelings like joy and anger, which are mentioned in the Doctrine of the Mean, refer to the Seven that are capable of becoming either good or evil. He also agrees with Toegye that the issuance of all feelings involve both i and ki. But Kobong challenges Toegye by arguing that his senior’s Four-Seven theory is not correct because it implies that there are two different kinds of feelings and, in turn, of goodness, one issued from i and and the other from ki. Toegye’s dualistic interpretation is, Kobong asserts, unreasonable because in all concrete things and phenomena, i and ki are never separated from or act in opposition to each other. Furthermore, he reiterates his basic position that the Four and the Seven belong to “one realm of feeling,” for the former constitutes the “good side” of the latter, the totality of feelings. Accordingly, he rejects Toegye’s view that the Seven are potentially evil; the Seven, like the Four, are good if they become harmonised.

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