The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 96)

To Kobong, Toegye is not correct in analysing the origins of the Four and the Seven from the standpoint of “separation” and “distinction.” In other words, Toegye’s approach dos not accord to the true essence of classical texts. Addressing the issue of interpreting orthodox Cheng-Chu teachings, Kobong challenges Toegye by requesting him to answer two specific questions: “Where do the aroused and harmonised feelings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy that attained their due degree and measure issue from, i or ki?” and “Is the goodness of these feelings the same as that of the Four Beginnings?” Obviously, his answer to the first question is ki and that to the second question is yes. Embedded in Kobong’s argument is that the Four do not exist outside of the Seven but constitute a good side of the latter. The goodness of the Four is, therefore, no different from the goodness of harmonised emotions; more specifically, there must be a certain continuum between the harmonised emotion of “love” (one of the Seven) and the “mind-and-heart of commiseration” (one of the Four-beginning of benevolence).

In the emanation process of the Four and the Seven, what really acts and becomes manifest is ki, not i. This is the foundation of Kobong’s Four-Seven thesis, and it is for this reason why he could not accept the first half of Toegye’s hobal theory that “in the case of the Four, i is manifest and ki follows.” In general, Kobong’s argument corresponds to Chu Hsi’s view that ki is the active physical agent that exists “within form,” activating and transforming all concrete phenomena, whereas i is the passive metaphysical principle or “the ground of being” that has neither form nor manifesting power on its own. If, as Toegye has suggested, i is able to manifest itself in the case of the Four, then it means incorrectly that i must have form and action. To put it in another way, Kobong means i has no self-manifesting power, and what Toegye meant by saying “i is manifest” is that “ki is manifest as it follows i, without disturbing it.”

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