The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 94)

The Last Exchange on the Moon-Moonlight Analogy:
Unity or Duality?

Several months after receiving Toegye’s second letter, Kobong responded in the first month of 1561 with a long, itemised review of it. Enclosed were his comments on the revised version of Toegye’s first letter as well. In his third and last Four-Seven letter to Toegye, Kobong admitted that among the thirty items of dispute, eighteen items are already compatible, but fundamental disagreement still remained in twelve areas. As he claimed, the eighteen agreed items are the major issues of the debates, and twelve problem items are only minor ones that can be settled through further clarification. He first presented a solid point that the principle of the Way transmitted by the former Confucian sages and worthies should be discussed and understood from the standpoint of “unity,” not from the standpoint of “duality.” He then warned Toegye politely that nobody is to win the whole debate because it began with a scholarly motivation to clarify the Confucian “Way of the sages and worthies.” Toegye was asked to continue presenting honest and correct opinions in order to solve those problem items.

Kobong begins by criticising Toegye’s idea of “origin.” Specifically, he argues that he could not accept Toegye’s opinion that, regarding “what is principally referred to,”there is a clear “difference” between the saying that “i dominates” in the case of the Four and the saying that “ki dominates” in the case of the Seven. As he states, “Mencius did not speak of the Four Beginnings by referring to i only. In mentioning the sEven Emotions, Tzu-ssu must have referred to i and ki together.” In other words, both Tzu-ssu and Mencius did not mean the “origins” of the Four and the Seven. Kobong charges Toegye with misunderstanding Mencius’ and Tzu-ssu’s teachings; more to the point, he criticises him for formulating an inconsistent logical view that “Mencius referred to the Four BEginnings as the manifestation of i; therefore, it follows that Tzu-ssu described the Seven Emotions by referring to ki.” Here, the fundamental difference of opinion between Toegye and Kobong is clear: for the latter, in the process of issuing both the Four and the Seven, what is manifest is ki, and what rides on it is i.

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