The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 83)

Toegye’s Revised Four-Seven Theory of “Alternate Manifestation”

As a scholarly appreciation of Kobong’s systematic and critical argument, Toegye revised his first letter and sent its revised version to his challenger in the fall of 1560, three months after he had received Kobong’s second critique. Also, he enclosed a comprehensive response consisting of forty six pages of careful summations of, and reflections on, Kobong’s points. In the revised version of the first letter, Toegye made four short and two long corrections. For example, he deleted a long statement claiming that Kobong’s position is no different from Lo’s critique of Chu Hsi’s philosophy; of course, he means that he was mistaken in assuming that Kobong had actually advocated a theory of the oneness of i and ki according to Lo’s philosophy. Furthermore, he gave a more positive view of the Seven Emotions, suggesting that they are “originally good” rather than “both good and evil.” Although agreeing with Kobong, he carefully pointed out that “they can easily become evil,” if they are not in harmony and depart from proper measure and expression. Despite his willingness to accommodate some of Kobong’s convincing views and insights, he maintained his basic position that the Four and the Seven are different in terms of origin, meaning, and quality. In other words, the core of his Four-Seven thesis still remains intact.

In his second letter, Toegye considered Kobong’s interpretation thoroughly and carefully, adopting basically the same style of communication. After rearranging Kobong’s twelve-point critique into five sections, Toegye outlined the following points: first, he apologises for misreading and thus misinterpreting a statement in Kobong’s first letter; second, he wishes to revise his four statements that, though Kobong’s thoughtful insights, he found inadequately expressed; third, there are thirteen agreed items that he does not wish to clarify further; fourth, eight points of dispute, which he initially considered as being resolvable, are less agreeable and, therefore, require a reinterpretation; and finally, nine incompatible issues on which he totally disagrees with Kobong need more debate.

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