The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 65)

Moreover, the basis of good and evil is, “What is manifest and harmonised is called good; what is manifest but not harmonised is called evil.” When human nature is manifest, the Seven Emotions arise, but there may be good, harmonised feelings in some cases and bad, disharmonised feelings in other cases. Hence, we have the problem of good and evil, depending on whether or not feelings are harmonised. For Kobong, the good, harmonised feelings refer to the Four BEginnings. In the light of the Doctrine of the MEan, he also means that before the Seven emotions are aroused, the mind-and-heart is in the state of equilibrium that refers to human nature in itself or the “original substance of human nature” (song chi poncho). In other words, human nature (song) is originally good; however, when it is manifest and disturbed by external things, an access of feelings can lead one to evil, presumably in one’s selfish desires, intentions, and actions. Emotional control and integration are the universal path to self-cultivation, as it is indicated in the Doctrine of the Mean.

A convincing feature of Kobong’s argument is that Mencius paid special attention to the Four and considered them as those good and harmonised feelings that come out of the Seven, the totality of all feelings. For Kobong, one cannot talk about two different kinds of feelings in terms of the Four sand the Seven, especially in terms of the contrast of i and ki or that of good and evil. The Four constitute a “subset” or the Seven, and the latter, if expressed properly “through attaining due degree and measure,” can also become good. So far as feelings are concerned, both the Four and the Seven involve i and ki together. Toegye’s assertion that the Four and the Seven can be spoken of in terms of the dichotomy of “manifestation of i” and “manifestation of ki” is, in Kobong’s view, not right because it separates the one side (Four) from the totality (Seven). If the Seven are said to be “manifestations of ki only,” it must mean that, in the issuing process of the Seven, only ki is manifest without any participation by i.

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