The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 82)

Kobong makes a compelling conclusion that, to a single nature, Toegye misapplied two terms and spoke of them as the two separate origins of the Four and the Seven, as if they were independent from and in opposition to each other. Original human nature and physical human nature are, according to Kobong, used for simple convenience to explain “one reality” of human nature by referring to i only, or i and ki combined; they are not two different human natures but rather one and united. Kobong, therefore, rejects Toegye’s theory. Both the Four and the Seven must belong to one human nature. This is why Kobong found it impossible to accept Toegye’s dualistic view of i and ki and of original human nature and physical human nature, which, however, originates significantly from Chu Hsi’s original thinking. To formulate a theory of the oneness of human nature, he maintains a philosophical and moral view in favour of the continuum the Four and the Seven.

In short, Kobong means that Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis is unreasonable because it dualistically emphasises the two different “origins” of the Four and the Seven. To him, good and evil are never two opposing realities of feelings pertaining to the Four, on the one hand, and the Seven, on the other hand. In other hands, he emphasises the Four-Seven continuum in the context of dressing an i-ki complementarity and an ethical good-evil link. The fundamental difference of the Four and the Seven is due only to the problem of whether feelings are harmonised. This is, of course, another moral argument from the Confucian standpoint of self-cultivation, especially in the light of the Doctrine of the MEan. One may call it a non dualistic approach to philosophical thinking and moral reasoning.

Note that Kobong’s philosophy of human nature is strikingly similar to that of Lo Chin-shun: both thinkers argued that two “names” are applied to describe one human nature. This is partly why, Toegye, in his first letter to Kobong, criticised the latter for presenting an interpretation of i and ki and of original human nature and physical nature on the basis of Lo Chin-shun’s Kun-chiih chi. Here, an interesting matter of debate is that, in his second challenge to Toegye, Kobong denies his senior’s claim that he was influenced by Lo’s Kun-chih chi. He claims that he had never seen such a text. This claim appears to be true, which suggests that Kobong’s interpretation of i and ki and of human nature did not come directly from Lo’s philosophy but was his own original thinking. For Toegye’ however, this was never the real issue of the debate, and what was more important was to debate further on their divergent view. The seriousness and thoroughness with which Kobong analysed and criticised his senior’s first response forced Toegye further to modify some of his views once more.

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