The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 95)

To Kobong, Toegye’s Four-Seven theory, which is formulated from a standpoint of the “distinction” and “separation,” does not apply especially to the Seven, the “totality” of all feelings, because their issuance should be explained in terms of both i and ki combined. Kobong makes an interesting epistemological statement: “Chu Hsi’s saying that ‘the Four BEginnings are manifestations of i, and the Seven Emotions are manifestations ok ki’ was viewed from a standpoint of casual relation, not from a standpoint of dichotomy.” Had Chu Hsi really meant it from the standpoint of i-ki dichotomy, then he is, Kobong argues, completely wrong. The way in which Kobong interprets Chu Hsi reveals that Chu Hsi must have meant from the standpoint of relation that the Four and the Seven are all feelings connected with each other and that there are merely two related “names” for “one realm of feelings” described in terms of i and ki together. This argument reemphasise his basic belief that, in the light of Neo-Confucian metaphysics and ethics, the Four-Seven issue should be understood in the context of “unity,” not “duality.” In this regard, we can use an argument made by Cho Song-ki (Chosuljae, 1638-1687) who attempted to find a compromise between Toegye and Yulgok. In his famous ToeYul yangsonsaeng saran chilchong ikisol hupyon (Second Treatise on Two Masters Toegye and Yulgok and Their Theories of the Four and the Seven, I and Ki), Cho criticised Toegye’s Four-Seven thesis for focusing too much on the dualistic distinction and separation of i and ki. Like Kobong, he argued that, although i and ki are ontologically unmixable and conceptually distinct, it is equally true that they are inseparable in concrete phenomena including feelings.

Kobong requests Toegye to accept his initial argument that, instead of differentiating the Four and the Seven according to what he considers as a dualistic system of i and ki, the Four should be understood as a “subset” of the Seven. For Kobong, “they cannot be distinguished from each other according to what is manifest (i of ki).” He points out that Toegye can understand his argument better and put the Four and the Seven separately in opposition to each other. In fact Toegye later found this argument helpful for compiling his Sim tong songchong tosol (Diagrammatic Treatise on the Saying “the Mind Commands Human Nature and Feelings), the sixth of his famous Songhak sipto. The impact of Kobong’s argument is very evident in this diagrammatic treatise.

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