The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 69)

Toegye’s Response to Kobong’s First Challenge:
The Distinction of the Four and the Seven

In his first eight-page response to Kobong’s preliminary challenge, Toegye gives an elaborated presentation of his Hour-Seven thesis. He begins by asserting that although the Four and the Seven, as Kobong has pointed out, involve both i and ki in the process of their emanation, they are significantly differently in several ways:

The former Confucian scholars had understood the distinction between human nature (song) and feelings (chong). But they briefly mentioned that the Four BEginnings and the Seven Emotions are both feelings. I have not seen any theory that explains them clearly in terms of i and ki. Last year, I saw Chong Chi-un’s Chonmyong to (Diagram of HEaven’s Imperative). According to it, “The Four BEginnings are manifest from i and the Seven Emotions are manifest from ki.” Since I feared that Chong’s distinction (of the Four and the Seven) is too strict, I have modified it by adding such phrases as “purely good,” “involves ki also,” and so on… Generally speaking, the Four Beginnings are feelings, and the Seven Emotions are also feelings. They are all feelings.

In this passage, Toegye generally agrees with Kobong’s view that the Four and the Seven are all basic human feelings. If the Four and the Seven, as both Toegye and Kobong agreed, are the aroused feelings or states of the mind, why would there be two different terms, the Four and the Seven? Is the distinction purely arbitrary and textual? Should the Four Beginnings (mentioned by Mencius) and the Seven Emotions (mentioned in the Doctrine of the Mean and Book of Rites) point to the two separate realms of human feelings? For Toegye, these were three critical questions. As Tu Wei-ming points out, “The dilemma for Toegye was to formulate a correct interpretation of the Mencian idea of human nature in the light of Chu Hsi’s concept of mind. If there was a conceived conflict between the two orientations, his task was to see that it be satisfactorily resolved.”

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