The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 72)

In his Sim tong songchong tosol (Diagrammatic Treatise on the Saying “the Mind Commands Human Nature and Feelings”), the sixth of his famous Songhak sipto (Ten Diagrams of the Learning of Sagehood), Toegye argues that the original human nature refers to what Tzu-ssu called the nature endowed by Heaven, what Cheng I meant by “human nature is i,” what Chang Tsai and Chu Hsi referred to as the nature of Heaven and Earth, and what Chu Hsi meant by saying “what flows from the origin has nothing but good.” In Toegye’s view, they all meant i alone, referring to the “original essence of human nature”; otherwise, one cannot understand the confucian doctrine of human nature. On the other hand, when one speaks of concrete “human nature mixed with ki” in the factual, concrete sense, one is referring to what Chang Tsai and Chu Hsi called physical nature. Toegye’s basic philosophical position generally comes from Chu Hsi’s own philosophy: the original human nature is basically the unmanifest and perfectly good state before the feelings are aroused, whereas the physical human nature is the manifest state involving both good and evil after the feelings are aroused. For him, then, the Four should be represented by the original human nature, and the Seven by the physical human nature.

By pointing out the importance of analysing the divergence as well as the convergence of the Four and the Seven, Toegye asserts that the Four and the Seven are different in several fundamental ways. From an ontological perspective, their “origins” are different. In an epistemological context as well, the Four and the Seven are not the same in terms of “What is spoken of” and “what is referred to.” To Toegye, Mencius explained the Four by referring principally to i because human nature is characterised by moral virtues, such as benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom, which exist purely and naturally in the mind-and-heart. While accepting Kobong’s convincing view that the emanation of Seven includes both i and ki, Toegye argues,however, that in this case “what is spoken of refers principally to ki.” Of course, this this is based on the Cheng-Chu doctrine that physical form is always in movement and thus stimulated easily by the external things that represent ki and can lead to evil. Chu Hsi said that “the Seven Emotions can not be separated from the Four Beginnings” and that “the Four Beginnings can be understood in the context of the Seven Emotions.” As mentioned before, these secluded and unexplained statements, which both Kobong and Toegye were never aware of, seem to contradict Chu Hsi’s Four-Seven statement that “the Four are manifestations of li; the Seven are manifestations of chi.” Although Chu Hsi did not describe the precise relationship of the Four and the Seven, he seems to have meant that the Four and the Seven cannot be spoken of as two separate realms of human feelings. Hence, Toegye’s interpretation, though he never noticed, does not seem to accord with the intended meaning of Chu Hsi’s original thinking.

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