The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 85)

Interestingly, Toegye softened his dualistic position by recognising more of a continuum between the original nature (the nature of HEaven and Earth) and the Physical nature and by accepting Kobong’s emphasis on the inseparability of i and ki in all concrete phenomena. He decided not to insist too much on one of his initial points that i and ki are ontologically two and unmixable. But he still argues: “The nature of Heaven and Earth (the original human nature) can be spoken in terms of i only because i is what dominates; the physical human nature can be spoken in terms of ki because ki is what dominants.” In other words, the physical human nature pertains mainly to ki, conditioning and controlling the process of physical endowment, whereas the original nature pertains mainly to i, constituting the whole goodness of human nature. Toegye means that although i and ki are inseparable from a phenomenalistic standpoint of concrete things, the original human nature and the physical human nature can be discussed separately in terms of i and ki respectively. For him, this is a simple matter of emphasis.

By addressing this matter, however, Toegye wishes to maintain his basic thesis that i and ki are distinct from a conceptual perspective of separation. As he argues further, “Regarding Heaven, Earth, human beings, and things, it is not that i exists outside of ki. And yet, i and ki can be spoken of separately. Although we say, in regard to human nature and feelings, that i is in ki and human nature is in its physical endowment, why can we not talk about i and ki separately?” In this passage, Toegye reaffirms the Cheng-Chu doctrine of the inseparability of i and ki in all concrete phenomena. But he still maintains the basis of his dualistic position that, because the original human nature is full of goodness and, therefore, refers to i, it logically follows that the physical human nature can be expressed by referring mainly to ki, although both i and ki are present in it. Hence, one can discuss feelings in terms of the Four and the Seven by referring principally to i or ki, respectively.

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