Skip to 0 minutes and 17 seconds Everyday Emotions, Moral or Not? Have you ever wondered whether or not the emotions you feel in everyday life are moral? After all, our feelings are capricious. At times, you may feel sympathy for the poor, and other times, be attracted by selfishness. You may get angry at injustice and take action, but also sometimes turn away from your call of duty. An easy explanation would be that emotion is unreliable whereas reason is, and so emotion must obey reason. However, this explanation does not feel satisfactory. You may also imagine your mind as a battlefield between angels and demons in which morals are supposed to watch and control us.
Skip to 1 minute and 27 seconds That is to say, without a reconciliation of your emotions, you cannot have a peace of mind. However, Joseon scholars saw the relationship between emotion and reason quite differently… Everyday Emotions, Moral or Not? The Four-Seven Debate is the best-known polemic in Korean philosophy. “Four” stands for the “Four Sprouts”, which are our moral emotions, and “Seven” stands for the “Seven Emotions” which are the representative everyday feelings. Joseon intellectuals debated whether our everyday feelings, such as joy or sorrow, could be faithfully transformed into moral emotions, like benevolence or righteousness, that is to say, they asked whether the pure and ideal moral emotions are innate, unlike the whims of our everyday feelings. This debate continued for hundreds of years.
Skip to 2 minutes and 46 seconds It is remarkable that the issue of emotions became a central topic of discussion throughout the 500-year history of Korean neo-Confucianism. We can see how important it was for Joseon Korean thinkers to feel their morals; that is, to match their feelings with what is right. Because this debate was carried out in classical Chinese, and developed around the concept of “Four Sprouts” of Mencius, some people mistakenly assume that this debate originated from Chinese Neo-Confucianism. However, this is not true. The “Seven Emotions” did not receive much attention in Chinese philosophical history, and the quest to connect the moral emotions and the everyday feelings was not a primary theoretical task left by the Chinese Neo-Confucians.
Skip to 3 minutes and 57 seconds So ultimately, the Four-Seven debate should be understood as an academic manifestation of the deeply rooted questions and concerns underlying Korean philosophy, inspired by their study of the neo-Confucian worldview. The questions of “moral emotions” and “everyday feelings” that sprouted up in the late Goryeo or the early Joseon Dynasty formed a complete and sustainable lineage of debate, most notably by Toegye and Yulgok, two prominent scholars of the Joseon dynasty. After Toegye and Yulgok, Korean Philosophy was able to have a tradition of discussing its own subjects and referring to its own thinkers. Perhaps this is why Toegye and Yulgok are regarded as representative figures of Korean philosophy, despite the fact that numerous later Korean thinkers presented other interesting topics.
Skip to 5 minutes and 12 seconds The depth and density of this debate demonstrate the sincerity and devotion of Korean neo-Confucian scholars, to the point that people often consider Joseon neo-Confucianism to be synonymous with Korean philosophy. Although this debate didn’t actually end up making all Koreans moral, I would say that it paved the way for the philosophical pursuit of morals in harmony with the emotions of everyday life.
The Four-Seven Debate
Have you ever wondered whether or not the emotions you feel in everyday life are moral?
Joseon intellectuals debated whether our everyday feelings, such as joy and sorrow, could be faithfully transformed into moral emotions, like benevolence and righteousness, that is to say, they asked whether the pure and ideal moral emotions are innate, unlike the whims of our everyday feelings. This is the Four-Seven debate, which is the best-known polemic in Korean philosophy.
© Sungkyunkwan University