The Four-Seven Debate

An Annotated Translation of the Most Famous Controversy in Korean Neo-Confucian Thought

By Michael C. Kalton
With Oaksook C. Kim, Sung Bae Park, Young-chan Ro, Tu Wei-ming, and Samuel Yamashita

Subjects: Asian Religion And Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Korean Studies
Paperback : 9780791417522, 253 pages, February 1994
Hardcover : 9780791417515, 253 pages, March 1994

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Table of contents

Translator's Preface



Introduction to the Four-Seven Debate


The Four-Seven Debate
The T'oegye-Kobong Debate
The Yulgok-Ugye Debate
The Importance of the Four-Seven Debate


1. T'oegye's Letter to Kobong

2. Kobong's Letter to T'oegye on the Four Beginnings-Seven Feelings Thesis

3. T'oegye's Reply to Kobong Arguing the Distinction ofthe Four Beginnings and Seven Feelings in Terms of Principle and Material Force

4. Kobong's Response to T'oegye's Letter Discussing the Four Beginnings and Seven Feelings


5. T'oegye's Reply to Kobong's Critique of Distinguishingthe Four Beginnings and Seven Feelings in Terms of Principle and Material Force, with a Revised version of His First Letter

Revised Draft of T'oegye's First Letter

Second Letter Replying to Kobong's Critique

6. Kobong's Response to the Second Letter

7. Kobong's Postscript Explanation of the Four Beginnings and Seven Feelings

8. Kobong's General Summary of the Four Beginnings and Seven Feelings

9. Ugye's First Letter to Yulgok on the Four-Seven Debate

10. Yulgok's Response to Ugye's First Letter

11. Yulgok's Response to Ugye's Second (Missing) Letter

12. Ugye's Third Letter to Yulgok

13. Yulgok's Response to Ugye's Third Letter

14. Ugye's Fourth Letter to Yulgok

15. Yulgok's Reply to Ugye's Fourth Letter

16. Ugye's Fifth Letter to Yulgok

17. Yulgok's Reply to Ugye's Fifth Letter

18. Ugye's Sixth Letter to Yulgok

19. Yulgok's Reply to Ugye's Sixth Letter

Letter on Principle and Material Force



Selected Bibliography



This book is an annotated translation, with introduction and commentary, of the correspondence between Yi Hwang (T'oegye, 1500-1570) and Ki Taesung (Kobong, 1527-1572) and between Yi I (Yulgok, 1536-1584) and Song Hon (Ugye, 1535-1598), known as the Four-Seven Debate, the most famous philosophical controversy in Korean Neo-Confucian thought. The most complex issues and difficult tensions in the great Neo-Confucian synthesis are at the juncture between the metaphysics of the cosmos and the human psyche. The Four-Seven Debate is perhaps the most searching examination of this tension ever carried out.

Michael C. Kalton is Professor of Liberal Studies at the University of Washington at Tacoma. Oaksook C. Kim is Director of the Korea Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. Sung Bae Park is Professor at the Center for Religious Studies, State University of New York at Stony Brook.


"This book introduces to an English-reading audience an extremely important issue in Korean Neo-Confucianism. Moreover, it shows how that philosophical debate was really about practical issues that arise in the course of moral cultivation. I find this book, particularly the introduction, the most lucid account of the origin, course, and significance of the Four-Seven Debate available in any language other than Korean, and it is better than most of the Korean material.

"The Four-Seven Debate has relevance far beyond Korean intellectual history. This book should be useful to people interested in philosophical or moral issues from a wide variety of cultural traditions. It will bring the Four-Seven Debate to the attention of scholars and writers exploring questions of evil and the human condition who would otherwise have been unaware of it." -- Don Baker, University of British Columbia