The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 81)

The next main topic of Kobong’s critique focuses on Toegye’s dualistic theory that the Four Beginnings come from original human nature and the Seven Emotions come from physical human nature. According to Kobong, there are no two separate kinds of human nature. “That which is called good” refers to the original human nature; “that which is called evil” refers to the excessive or deficient dimension of the physical human nature. Quoting Cheng-Chu doctrines of human nature, he agrees with Toegye that the original human nature pertains to what Chang Tsai and Chu Hsi call the nature of Heave and Earth. When one speaks of this nature, one is talking about i alone. It is the nature that exists before physical form; in human beings, it is called original human nature. As Chu Hsi pointed out, “when one speaks of physical nature endowed by ki, one is referring to i and ki combined.” Nevertheless, Kobong states: “When we speak of physical human nature, it is not separate nature because substance (original nature) already exists in the physical human nature.” In other words, the original human nature is human nature in itself prior to existing in physical form; with respect to existing in physical form, it is called physical human nature. However, Kobong, like Chu Hsi, argues that the original human nature must be understood in the concrete context of the physical human nature. For him, then, only two conceptual “terms” are used in discussing the subject matter; surely, he presented what we may call a theory of one nature and two names. What Cheng-Chu NEo-Confucianism means by human nature in a concrete sense is actually the “physical human nature”; the so-called original human nature is only an abstract ideal.

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