Otto Weininger

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Otto Weininger
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Name: Otto Weininger
Date of Birth: April 3, 1880
Occupation: Philosopher
Ethnicity: Jewish

Otto Weininger (April 3, 1880 – October 4, 1903) was an ethnically Jewish philosopher, who lived in Vienna-then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

He is mainly known for his work primarily focused on gender philosophy, "Sex and Character" (German: Geschlecht und Charakter) published in 1903. He developed a theory of gender based on secretions of the gonads, anticipating the later scientific discovery of the sex hormones (i.e. androgens and estrogens). That is, mixes of these gonadal secretions "complete" a gender. The work also concerns Weininger's insights into the relationship between the sexes and the character of women.

Weininger was staunchly opposed to what he saw as "Jewishness" (which he saw as a negative force inherent in everyone to a greater or lesser degree) and converted to Protestant Christianity.[1] He was an influence on the National Socialist movement, Gerald Steig, an Austrian writer, called Sex and Character "the psychological-metaphysical prelude for National Socialism, including its variants."[2]

Reception of his work[edit | edit source]

His work was popularized by his sensational (at the time) suicide. Parts of his work (namely, his antisemitism and his comparison of Jews with what Weininger saw as the negative aspects of the female spirit) were promoted and selectively quoted by the Nazis, while they decried Weininger personally, due to his Jewish racial background. Adolf Hitler reportedly stated that "I only knew one decent Jew and he committed suicide...", quoting the "spiritual father of National Socialism", Dietrich Eckart,[3] whose work shows clear influence by Weininger, particularly in his echoing the call of Weininger for "Aryans" to resist the encroachment of psychological "Jewishness" from within.

His book was also praised by other major figures of the far-right, the Italian reactionary philosopher Julius Evola fêted Weininger as: "The author who, in the most violent way, has attacked feminism, egalitarianism, the cult of woman, and the romantic myth of love, proclaiming the absolute spiritual and moral heterogeneity of the two sexes and the decided inferiority of femininity with respect to true virility [...]"[4] Feminists who lauded his work were mainly gender essentialist types like Germaine Greer. He has also been called "arguably one of the greatest feminists of all time – there being probably no person in all history who has argued so strongly for the right of every woman to independence and self-determination, or argued so persuasively for her true freedom from the dictates of both men and other women."[5] His work is also frequently praised and cited by masculinists, some of whom have been dubbed male supremicists.

Beliefs[edit | edit source]

He believed all barriers should be taken away from androgynous women to assert themselves in art and science, but that an all encompassing "women's movement" would drag too many women into it that have not much real capability or interest in male spaces. He argued the only women who truly value and were capable of being emancipated were masculine women, androgynous, perhaps lesbian types. Weininger was a critic of the laws that existed throughout Europe that criminalized homosexual acts, calling for the penalties to be reduced, or for the laws to be abolished altogether, mainly stemming from his complementary view of sexual attraction, and view of homosexuality as largely hereditary.

He saw that female sexual liberation would force most women, who naturally don't have much interest in academic or creative fields-beyond attracting men, and expressions of vanity-to write and study. That female entrance into male spaces by non-androgynous women would mostly become an expression of vanity and attention seeking. Although, he saw that most of the women without real interest in art or science would follow the androgynous women's call for liberation by lashing out at their husbands and, if they are young, at their mothers. He also stated clearly that while, in his view, it was possible for a man to "descend" to the level of women, he had never known of a woman - however masculine she may be - that was not fundamentally a woman in nature. This meant that, in his view, women were "incapable of genius".

He also believed in telegony, though he claimed that it was very rare, and only found in cases where a woman finds her "absolute sexual complement" in a man. Another belief Weininger held in opposition to many contemporary scientists was the existence of physiognomy, which Weininger hoped would be rehabilitated as a science.

Weininger's conception of 'Jewishness' was more holistic than the cruder biological definition used by the Nazis, with Weininger ultimately claiming the Jews are amoral and lacking true free will, like his depiction of women. Thus Weininger conflated what he saw as the negative aspects of "The Jewish Spirit" with what he perceived as the negative aspects of femininity. Though he ultimately denied either true agency.

Suicide[edit | edit source]

It seems clear that Weininger suffered from a deep melancholy much of his life, and exhibited some traits that indicated he was possibly neurodivergent. Stefan Zweig, an Austrian novelist, described an encounter with Weininger as follows:

"He always looked like one does after a thirty-hour train ride, dirty, tired, wrinkled, He walked crookedly and embarrassed, as if pressing himself against an invisible wall, and his mouth under the thin mustache was somehow tormentedly crooked. His eyes (his friends later told me) should have been beautiful: I have never seen them, because he always looked past me (even when I spoke to him, I did not feel his gaze for a second): all this I understood later as stemming from an irritated feeling of inferiority, the Russian criminal feeling of the self-tortured."[1]

Otto Weininger committed suicide by gunshot at the age of 23. He almost certainly died a virgin. His suicide in the same hotel room where Beethoven died, seen as romantic by many, sparked a number of copycat suicides in Vienna.[6] Upon Weininger's death, a close friend and colleague of Otto Weininger described him as being very intelligent, but also very ugly.

Quotes regarding women[edit | edit source]

Excerpts from Sex and Character:

A superior woman is still infinitely inferior to that which, at least potentially, exists in the lowest of men.

No men who really think deeply about women retain a high opinion of them; men either despise women or they have never thought seriously about them.

The well-known phrase, “Women have no character,” really means the same thing. Personality and individuality (intelligible), ego and soul, will and (intelligible) character, all these are different expressions of the same actuality, an actuality the male of mankind attains, the female lacks."

Woman does not wish to be treated as an active agent; she wants to remain always and throughout—this is just her womanhood—purely passive, to feel herself under another's will. She demands only to desired physically, to be taken possession of, like a new property.

Woman is merely the result of this affirmation; she is sexuality itself. Woman's existence is dependent on man; when man, as man, in contradistinction to woman, is sexual, he is giving woman form, calling her into existence. Therefore woman's one object must be to keep man sexual.

Her existence is bound up with the Phallus, and so that is her supreme lord and welcome master. Sex, in the form of man, is woman's fate; the Don Juan is the only type of man who has complete power over her.

A being like the female, without the power of making concepts, is unable to make judgments. In her “mind” subjective and objective are not separated; there is no possibility of making judgments, and no possibility of reaching, or of desiring, truth. No woman is really interested in science; she may deceive herself and many good men, but bad psychologists, by thinking so.

The condition of sexual excitement is the supreme moment of a woman's life. The woman is devoted wholly to sexual matters, that is to say, to the spheres of begetting and of reproduction. Her relations to her husband and children complete her life, whereas the male is something more than sexual.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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