Exactly 101 years prior to my birth, Otto Weininger was born in Vienna, on April 3, 1880. He was an Austrian philosopher. His book, that was published the year he died at 23 years of age is titled Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character). It became more popular after his death. Nowadays the book has been put down by a lot of critics as sexist and anti-Semitic. However, many people still consider it to be a great work of genius and spirituality and wisdom.

Although feminists may scoff at Otto and call him a typical male sexist, that label is not truly fitting for him. Otto typically supported women in their pursuit of sexual liberation, their right to vote, and their right to divorce their spouses. Right before World War I the Suffragist movement ended in a series of violent campaigns and protests.

Otto's book is one of several books that discusses the sexuality in that era. Otto's book is uncommon in the sense that he was very young when he wrote it and shortlay after writing it he committed suicide in the same house in Vienna where Beethoven died. Weininger portrays the typical male as rational, spiritual, artistic and political in nature. He also believed that women by nature can only resemble these characteristics that men possess when they act like a man. Otto mentions different examples of women that meet his belief in this matter and claims that many successful women are lesbians.

Otto said his book is a "tell all" book, saying that everybody is made up of a mixture of both female and male substances. He then tries supporting this with scientific facts by saying that females have passive characteristics that are unconscious, unproductive and are without moral value; while the male characteristics are conscious, moral, active and very productive. Weininger continues this theory by stating that emancipation should be withheld from women who don't display the masculine features like that of a man, and that lesbians should have emancipation also. Otto also argues that the woman's role is to be dedicated to a purely sexual function of either a prostitute or a mother.

Otto is likened to a collection of men who are experiencing sexual frustration. However, this is far from being true. What Otto calls scientific evidence is really just his way of patronizing the sexual characteristics of women, and hides the want to go past the hostility and fear of the changing social scene of his time. As it turns out, his book is really about the separation among those men who are becoming overrun by women of power, and the arrogance of the men who are thought of as worldly men.

Much of Weininger's book is about his views on a person's genius. It is obviously based on Otto's personal experience. He believes that a person will have more than one field they excel in such as writing, math, musical talent, art …etc. He continues by stating that he believes there is only a single true genius that he calls "universal genius". He describes this as a person who possesses many such "geniuses" and that this "universal genius" exists in everybody to some extent.

Otto was of the Jewish faith, and in 1902, he converted his beliefs to Christianity. Otto studied the Jewish female and declared them lacking in religious impulses or emotions, and lacking a true identity. Weininger's description of Christianity was "the highest expression of the highest faith" and Judaism as "the extreme of cowardliness". Otto believed that everybody has parts of what he called "Jewishness and feminine traits"

In the period when Otto penned his book, he was labeled as extremely controversial for a best-selling author. The book is translated into many different languages from around the globe. It gives much insight into what was happening between the sexes during his era. Although many believe he is totally wrong in every belief he puts into his book, Otto does make several statements about the pop culture that resound with the phenomena of his era.

Otto Weininger died October 4, 1903. As I mentioned above his death was the result of a suicide. He committed suicide by shooting himself.

Otto considered Beethoven to be one of the greatest geniuses of all time. Otto's suicide inspired many copy cat suicides in other authors and performers; this helped turn his book into a success.

Otto Weininger was a Viennese Austro-Hungarian Jew most famous for his philosophy of male glorification elaborated in 1903's "Sex and Character," a work that stirs many academics today for its shades of mysogyny and anti-semitism.

Weininger was a cultural philosopher who built a separate theory of knowledge for males and females. Though each woman had some degree of masculine in her and each male a degree of the feminine, the theory made males out to be superior to women. Men unlike women could be moral: the masculine factor's epistemology was based on men's ability to subdivide the world into logical parts and devise moral laws for themselves. Drawing on Fichtean philosophy, Weininger indicated men as moral, selfless beings who separated themselves from instincts and desires to approach the world in a cold, rational way that steered them towards obeing moral laws and resisting base impulses. The woman on the other hand could not derive and follow the same laws of morality because her relationship to the universe was not rational. She was at one with the universe and passively gave in to her instincts, whether they be kind or cruel. The point is that women could not do the right thing because they could not separate themselves from their emotions to think rationally. The example that he gives to the support this thesis are mothers who supposedly love their children unconditionally and do not allegeldy withdraw their affection even if their children commit heinous acts such as murder.

Let's go into more depth into how Weininger theoretically grounds men as rational and therefore moral and women as irrational and therefore immoral. The man's dualistic approach to self and world as separate allows him to keep a track of what he, an individual being, is doing to the people and things in other world. That's where the man's considerations of justice come from. He asks himself whether he abused another person or harmed some public resource, be it the water system, electricity, or a bank. Weininger points out that women unlike men do not actively use their memory to assemble facts of how they relate to objects and other people and therefore cannot judge whether they affect others negatively or not. They supposedly live in the moment, obeying whatever impulse it is that affects them at the time.(The image here to consider is women as vegetables, passively reaching towards the sunlight.) If a woman sees a child hungry for example, Weininger would imagine her running out to the nearest bakery and stealing a piece of bread for him without caring about how she is breaking the social contract of not stealing and thus hurting the bakery's profits and/or public order. According to this theory, the spontaneous unreflective woman would be called to crimes of passion and petty revenge against someone who she feels wronged her. (Not to mention susceptible to the temptation of cheating on her husband whenever another appealing man comes along. Weininger thought that the moral/rational acting man was less prone to infidelity than the pleasure-driven woman.)

But it is not only the advantage of morality that men supposedly have over women. You see, men's superior memory and ability to separate themselves from the world and to divide it into rational and logical parts makes them great artists/geniuses. Great writers are necessarily male because women's style of living spontaneously from moment to moment and not separating themselves from experience to think and reflect makes them incapable of storing up "reflections/thoughts about their life" that they can later use in writing. It must be kept mind since Weininger believes that each man and woman contain a certain percentage of the masculine and feminine in their constitution, he would attribute the unethical actions of a very impulsive man who doesn't control his behavior according to principles of morality to the fact that this man is predominantly, say 75% female, by type.

There is one group of males that Weininger believes to possess a very high quotient of irrational and immoral female behavior: Jews. Like women (since they constitute the female type), Jews can only act in their own interest to satisfy their own individual desires and are incapable of acting morally and fulfilling their obligations towards others. Deprived of reason, they cannot achieve genius as artists and their work is condemned to chaotic irrationalism and mediocrity. Being a Hungarian Jew, Weininger ended up commiting suicide over the fact that his ethnic roots prevented him from being a worthy human being. It is not as if he didn't try to escape the curse of being Jewish by converting to Protestantism. Though a Jew, Weininger apparently did aspire to genius since he chose to shoot himself in the same house that Beethoven died and thus perhaps managed to associate himself, however temporarily, with the great composer. He died as a 23-year old in 1903, the same year his opus magnum was published.

Noteworthy Fact: In a rather interesting argumentative twist, Weininger argues that a woman's motherly instincts are an outgrowth of her endless sexual lust for men. Its part of her "plant-like/vegetative" impulse to nurture and be nurtured that is also present in the prostitute. Thus, a woman's two possible roles as prostitute and mother are cut of the same cloth.


Lucka, Emil. Otto Weininger - Sein Werk und seine Persönlichkeit
Janik, Allen and Toulmin, Stephen. Wittgenstein's Vienna. Ivan R. Dee Inc: Chicago, 1996.

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