The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 78)

To Kobong, there are simply two terms such as the Four and the Seven. Although he agrees with Toegye that the Four and the Seven are different in terms of “origin” and “what is spoken of,” he criticises Toegye for misinterpreting the Four-Seven relationship. In his view, Toegye misunderstood the Four and the Seven as two separate and independent kinds of feelings in opposition to each other. His challenging question to Toegye is, If the Four and the Seven all come from human nature, how can they have two different origins? Toegye is, Kobong asserts, wrong in arguing, from an ontological and moral standpoint, that the Four come from original human nature, whereas the Seven from physical human nature. In other words, divergent ways of addressing the same reality can simply be a matter of “emphasis”; therefore, the Four and the Seven should refer to the same reality of feelings understood from complementary angles.

Kobong’s critique of Toegye is founded on analysing what the latter meant by “origin.” The word origin is not appropriate in discussing the Four-Seven relationship. Following basic Cheng-Chu doctrines of mind, nature, and feelings, he reiterates and explains six points of his basic argument o convince Toegye. First, he supports Cheng I’s and Chu Hsi’s views that when human nature is manifest, it becomes feelings, and that all feelings arise from human nature, under external stimuli. In other words, the beginnings of virtues and the emotions like joy and anger all come from human nature. Second, the four and the Seven involve both i and ki, for i and ki are inseparable in the context of concrete phenomena. Because the mind unites both i and ki, the Four and the Seven should be understood in the same way that feelings are aroused when the mind is stimulated by external things. Third, in the case of the Seven, “ki is manifest,” and “i makes the manifestation of ki possible.” Fourth, it is, Kobong asserts, unreasonable to address the Four-Seven issue, as Toegye has done, in terms of the ethical good-evil contrast; rather, it should be understood in the light of the Doctrine of the Mean. The Four-Seven continuum must be discussed in terms of whether aroused feelings are harmonised according to “due degree and measure.” This, Kobong argues, is due to the fact that “the goodness of the Four” and “the goodness of the Seven” belong to the “same realm of goodness” that must include all harmonised feelings. Fifth, the Four are said to be good because, when they are aroused, “i is undisturbed by ki” as the former “rides on” the latter. Sixth, Toegye’s statement that “the Four are purely good” is unreasonable; this is because even the Four as aroused feelings, are capable of becoming evil if they do not attain their due degree and measure.

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