The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 76)

In the Kun-chih chi (Knowledge Painfully Acquired), Lo had criticised Chu Hsi’s dualistic philosophy of li and chi, including his statement that “li and chi are definitely two things.” Seeing li and chi as one and inseparable, he said that “I doubt he (Chu Hsi) finally achieved unity,” and that “li is not a separate entity.” Because he accepted only the Cheng-Chu doctrine that “li is one; its manifestations are diverse (li-i fen-shy),” it follows for him that “the oneness of principle” must always be understood from the standpoint of “the diversity of its manifestations” before it can be thoroughly perceived. As Lo pointed out, Mencius’ saying that “human nature is good” refers to the oneness of li; his disciple’s statement that “the nature of some is good, and the nature of others is not good” refers to the diversity of its particularisations. Furthermore, he criticised the sung Neo-Confucians, including Cheng I, Chang Tsai, and Chu Hsi, for not understanding the oneness of the original nature and the physical nature. As he said, “To a single nature, they applied two different names.”

The defensive way in which Toegye formulated his Four-Seven thesis concludes with his claim that Kobong’s interpretation of i and ki is influenced by, and no different from, Lo’s argument found in the Kun-chih chi. Following Lo, Kobong went too far in emphasising the inseparability of i and ki, thereby making what Toegye calls a “serious mistake” in acknowledging the oneness of i and ki and that of original nature and physical nature. Toegye politely instructs Kobong that if one does not distinguish clearly i from ki, it may lead one to an “unfortunate consequence” of misidentifying the moral qualities aroused by Heaven’s principle (chilli) with the selfish “human desires” (inyok) aroused by external stimuli. For this reason, Toegye urges Kobong to grasp a clear conceptual and ethical distinction between the Four and the Seven in terms of i and ki.

How did Kobong, then, respond to Toegye’s critique of his first challenge? Toegye’s systematic and serious argument stimulated Kobong to further clarify the basic features of his Four-Seven thesis, especially in the context of emphasising the inseparability of i and ki and the oneness of human nature.

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