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A Wittgenstein and Weininger frittata

Notes on Béla Szabados, “Eggshells or Nourishing Yolk? A Portrait of Wittgenstein as a Weiningerian” in Wittgenstein Reads Weininger

Szabados distinguishes the “externalist-negative” approach to characterizing Otto Weininger’s influence on Wittgenstein from a more direct and substantial effect on nearly every major theme or methodology in Wittgenstein. The first and usual approach has been largely centered on Wittgenstein’s use of Weininger as offering either a revealing contrast to his own philosophy or as moral or existential inspiration (Le Rider and Janik, respectively).

Szabados discuses five places where Wittgenstein directly names Weininger.


The oft-quoted remark from Wittgenstein’s letter to Moore:

Thanks for your letter. I can quite imagine that you don’t admire Weininger very much what with that beastly translation and the fact that W. must feel very foreign to you. It is true that he is fantastic but he is great and fantastic. It isn’t necessary or rather not possible to agree with him but the greatness lies in that with which we disagree. It is his enormous mistake which is great. I.e. roughly speaking if you just add a “~” to the whole book it says an important truth. However we better talk about it when I come back. [p. 159]


The conversations recorded by Drury where Weininger is called a “great genius” and where, in response to Drury’s qualms about Weininger’s notorious pronouncements, Wittgenstein says, “Yes, he is full of prejudices, only a young man would be so full of prejudices.” Szabados continues,

And then regarding Weininger’s theme that women and the female element in men was the source of all evil, Wittgenstein exclaims: “How wrong he was, my God he was wrong” (Drury 1981, 106).

[There is more than a little that is puzzling about this conversation. One would think there would have to have been more to it that should have been recorded. Being so utterly wrong and full of prejudices and young (or old, for that matter) is scarcely remarkable. But when also coupled with being called a “great genius” (and, by most accounts, a moral one at that), we are left seriously hanging. How can one be all these things? Drury should have asked. He should have insisted on an explanation. And one would think, if he had gotten it from Wittgenstein, given its probable singularity, he would have remembered it.

I confess to certain doubts. To say that Weininger was wrong in the total way implied by “my God he was wrong” is the kind of remark one expects to hear, and often does, from those who have only a second hand acquaintance with Weininger’s book or given it a cursory reading in a bad translation. We know that neither of these describes Wittgenstein.

It is clear that we don’t think that Weininger was anywhere close to being so wrong. A thoughtful reading of Weininger, cognizant of his milieu as well as the finer (but hardly hidden) distinctions he insisted on making about the nature of ethics and the source of normativity in general and the relation of this to a dioecious species such as ours, should have, above all, made us leary of making intersex moral judgments. Weininger was caught between making well-advised and proper moral judgments from a male perspective and the realization that this very fact stood in the way of a general normativity: and the language of Sex and Character reflects this in its vacillations between aspersions on the morality of the feminine and very clear statements of its fundamental amorality: women are outside morality, it does not apply to them, not as traditionally understood and that tradition is irremedially and essentially male, which is not to say the feminine makes no incursions into it. That it does is both obvious and critical to the possibility of an intersex, universal, truly sex-blind, human morality. But so far only the possibility. What is implied is that a moral theory of the likes of Kant’s or Mill’s is founded on principles whose dearness to the species is characteristically masculine. And even where the feminine infusion is most in evidence, as in Aristotle and Hume, the masculine need for moral resolution is clearly the primary concern.

It is not accidental that ethical theorizing has been, until most recently, almost exclusively a masculine pastime. It has only been recent for two reasons: the more familiar one is that women—the few of them that might have been considered—have been locked out of being taken seriously in philosophy in general. But less often noticed is that, specifically regarding moral philosophy, it has not been as urgent a vocation for women as it has always needed to be for men. Power, its abuse, and discussion of what required being done about it go hand in hand. If this changes, and there are signs that it is, the kind of moral philosophy that women will urge, born of a feminine and largely proprietary sensibility, will be almost unrecognizable to the tradition in its fundamental assumptions. I say “almost” because, as Weininger insisted, sexual principles are embodied nowhere in pure form. Weininger’s work was the culmination of the tradition because it pressed its assumptions to their logical extreme and in the process revealed what should have been evident all along: the essential heterocosmicity of maleness.

And more than that, Weininger pressed it to and beyond the breaking point. The tendency of many will be to see his positive contribution as presenting a moral reductio of masculine principle. (Perhaps this would fall in with what Szabados would call the “external-negative” take on Weininger.) But that would be to underestimate the enormity of Weininger’s achievement. If correct, and we are increasingly convinced that it is, Weininger’s insight has more tragic implications than any simple pointing out of a mistake. What Weininger leaves us with is the conviction that our ability to transcend biology—whatever pure reason, or reason aligned with political expediency, may suggest to us—is overrated. There is no such thing, at this point in the evolution of our species nor in the offing, as sex-blind ethics. Surely we can abstract from sex to make pronouncements on human decency, but we risk gross injustice to do so naively any longer in this post-Weininger period.

What has emerged from philosophy written by women especially in the century since Weininger (but beginning even as he was writing) is confirmation of this fallout from Weininger.

Weininger dramatized a profound moral tragedy both in his life and in his writing. This fact must have moved Wittgenstein as it also did so many others—though not in all, admittedly, with complete understanding as to exactly what rings so true in Weininger. Leaving aside the deprecators, there was more admiration at a distance than full appreciation. Even in thoughtful appropriations of Weininger, it seems there was only an unclear suspicion (a Weiningerian henid, if you will) that Weininger was on to something more than could comfortably be passed as scandal in cafe conversation. But even flippant talk on these topics fell out of favor in the wake of well-known historical events: the Holocaust and the second wave of feminism. That might have been for the better but for the fact that with it went serious attention to Weininger’s lesson.

We don’t find ourselves having to choose between Sazabados’ “negative-externalist” and “direct evidence” approaches to Weininger’s influence on Wittgenstein (not that Szabados intends to force the choice). The truth of the former, it seems to us, would go a ways toward explaining the latter. One is more inclined to respect and absorb the techniques of someone who has impressed us with the depth of their insight. One is more inclined to make excuses for them when we are in a position to know they have stumbled. The value of the insight we respect may be that rare and precious while human frailty is not. I am speaking here of Wittgenstein’s admiration for Weininger, but, ironically, something similar may be going on here between Drury and Wittgenstein… Drury, too concerned that his mentor might be seen in a bad light for intellectually consorting with the likes of Weininger, may have felt it expedient to leave us only with this ambiguous snippet of conversation. He needn’t have been so embarrassed for his teacher. We want to hope Wittgenstein understood Weininger better than Drury did Wittgenstein.]


There is this passage (taken from the revised 1998 edition of Culture and Value, p. 95):

It is not unheard of (<There is> nothing unheard of in the idea) that someone’s character may be influenced by the external world (Weininger). For that only means that, as we know from experience, people change with circumstances. If someone asks: How could the environment coerce someone, the ethical in someone?—the answer is that he may indeed say, “No human being has to give way to coercion, ” but all the same under such circumstances (<circumstances> of this nature) someone will do such & such. “You don’t HAVE to, I can show you a different way out,—but you won’t take it. ”

In the earlier edition (p. 84e), Winch has it as:

There is nothing outrageous in saying that a man’s character may be influenced by the world outside him (Weininger). Because that only means that, as we know from experience, men change with circumstances. If it is asked: How could a man, the ethical in a man, be coerced by his environment?—the answer is that even though he may say “No human being has to give way to compulsion”, yet under such circumstances he will as a matter of fact act in such and such a way.

‘You don’t HAVE to, I can show you a (different) way out,—but you won’t take it. ’

[Note the avoidance of “man” in the revised translation. (The German certainly permits the avoidance.) This is significant because the gender of the person subject to coercion matters. It may determine the correct ethical description.]

Cf. Weininger, “Fate determines many things, no matter how we struggle.”

[The passage recalls the story of Jim in Bernard Williams’ well-known essay critiquing utilitarianism. Jim is cast as a hapless botanist caught in the middle of a proverbial South American revolution. He stumbles into a village where government soldiers are about to execute twenty suspected rebels. In a morbid gesture honoring him as a foreigner, Jim is made to choose between his killing one of the twenty, resulting in the others being spared, and refusing the offer and thereby obliging the soldiers to execute all twenty. Jim, we are to assume, has no political stake in the matter and certainly no interest in being the cause of anyone’s death… Should Jim compromise his moral character or sacrifice his personal integrity (the implication is that these amount to the same thing) by allowing himself to be used by circumstances or by others to carry out what he can only see as a cold-blooded killing? Or should he do what the utilitarian sees straightaway, without the least hesitation, as the right thing: kill the one to save the many?

Williams suggests that while perhaps the utilitarian is right in describing what should happen, doing the right thing here carries with it a non-negligible moral price. It is not a choice between killing one and being the cause of death for twenty, but between the latter and killing one plus the destruction of something whose value is not quantifiable, and hence not properly subject to utilitarian calculations. (Its value cannot be viewed as moral by the utilitarian precisely for this reason.)

Jim might be shown a way out of his dilemma. He might shut the door to being coerced by circumstances. He might go to his grave believing he was himself never the agent of death for another person… But would he take this way out? Williams—and Wittgenstein, perhaps—suggest that he probably would not.

If he does not, let’s be clear, it could not be because it was unambiguously right to kill the one. This is the utilitarian’s mistake. If he does not, it would be because of the fact that numbers count, irrespective of whether we accord moral significance to them. He would be acting very alone to refuse to kill the one. Few would dare to do that, whether it would be seen as moral or not. Notice that Jim does not need principle, utilitarian or otherwise, to make the choice to kill the one. Utility—a sympathetic bystander, almost ex post facto, theory—stands ready to offer consolation which he may choose to take or leave. Although there is a theory in the wings to support his decision to not kill the one, its consolative resources are relatively negligible.

But if he refused circumstances permission to force his hand, if he had chosen to stand on principle, would he have acted immorally?

No, we suspect, the answer is. He just would have to live with a burden that very few others would understand. This kind of heroism is never celebrated.

If he wanted company in the aftermath of his dilemma, he would kill the one.

What this says about morality is that, when push comes to shove, it is not on the side of numbers however much numbers may rule.* Neither Wittgenstein nor Williams quite say this, but it is what drives the dilemma.

* This may explain why utilitarianism, while, we contend, not a proper moral theory, nevertheless, has seemed so to many. Its pronouncements can seem to offer an impersonal perspective that is difficult to gainsay without appearing to be self-serving. But true normativity does not come from being impersonal. It comes from consideration of others, either what is unique about their kind (Kant) or dear to their species (moral sense theory). If numbers may overrule these considerations, it is because an extra-moral force is in play, more concerned with the management of resources perceived to be scarce, in this case, those of the species, not individuals. The force is extra-moral because it neither has nor needs moral sanction to be efficacious. It requires only a modicum of reason to appreciate. So it is that reason can operate happily in the absence of moral restraint and that sometimes the morally correct thing to do is irrational. This separation is made especially apparent by the extreme circumstances that breed dilemmas of the sort Williams discusses. Jim, for example, is faced between a choice that may be morally defensible but not entirely rational and one with the opposite characteristics.

Weininger, of course, was keenly pressed by this question. That’s why we think Wittgenstein alluded to him in this passage: not to disagree with Weininger but to comment on the relation between moral character and circumstances—essentially, that it is a tragic one.]

Szabados writes,

“This overlooked passage is a response to, and rejection of, Weininger’s characterology, which makes possible a priori and dogmatic generalizations about sexual, racial, and national characters.”

[A passage from Sex and Character (Heinemann edition, p, 83) follows in which Weininger describes how character is manifested in every act of a person. The error here, it seems to us, lies in taking Weininger to be suggesting a kind of fatalism with regard to human action. Weininger was not a fatalist in this rather rustic sense. What character predisposes is a way of seeing the world, a way of giving it a certain normative tonality that will give each human act occurring in it the significance it has for the agent. It is no mere predictor or index of either belief or action. Specific belief and action may well be at odds with the superficial logic of predetermination yet still flow from character.

Indeed, the moral imperative haunting Weininger seems to pit itself precisely against such facile conclusions. Thus, after expending much argument to convince us that the poorest example of male genius is still greater than the best feminine one, that she does not recognize logical statements as basic as those of identity, repeating social graffiti like “the longer the hair, the smaller the brain,” that woman is a non-entity, a moral nothing, etc.—from all this what does he conclude?

Yes, there is a very precise logic running through all this which never seems not to surprise on being heard. It is this: that whatever moral opprobrium may attach to woman, and it is far from clear that any does (and you only need to understand what morality is to see this), its ultimate source lies not in her but in men. Men are the moral agents, the ones saddled with both the opportunity for and responsibility of genius (a kind of self-creation, not to be confused with talent)—and, but for the celebrated exception (and it should soon be clear why celebration was deemed so necessary), the bulk of men have failed miserably at being men. Where they might be, because of their capacity and drive, the cause of much greatness, instead they are typically the source of degradation of both themselves and constitutional innocents like amoral women. Arrogating the whole moral field to themselves they also inherit full responsibility which, by and large, they have not taken. Depraved themselves and corrupting of others their craven criminal tendency is manifest in the world.*

* Editor’s note: Luno’s recurring harsh judgments of men may partially be explained by his sympathetic reading—in light of Weininger—of June Stephenson’s Men are Not Cost-Effective which expresses a rather radical feminist view of male criminality. Luno clearly sees these views as complementary in a critical way.

Since he was addressing men, Weininger had to write the way he did to get their attention. He had first to acknowledge their prejudices about women and other victimized (i.e., feminized) groups in order to show them (not say to them, as Wittgenstein might put it, for words had shown themselves inadequate to the task of pointing out the obvious) where the internal logic of masculinity leads. It leads, in case you still don’t get it, to moral, even physical death.

We are not claiming that Weininger was a feminist, that he thought that women needed relative empowerment, or that this was a conscious, back-handed, Kierkegaardian ruse at emancipating women, or any such thing. Such a reading may be possible, but we are not defending here the idea that Weininger was quite so devious as Kierkegaard. Nevertheless, we have no reason to believe that Weininger was anything but sincere in his call for the emancipation of women. But that could only happen in the wake of a rediscovery by men that they were leashed to a moral imperative arising from their own nature, setting the stage, as it does, for specifically masculine character development. Women would be free when men learned that their own freedom was of a sort that required that they leave women alone if they could not bring themselves to actually and fully serve women and the constitutionally blameless feminine in the project that was central to her and its condition of being, that is, the state of being worthy of life because invested in it. This was his material imperative while his ultimate one was to liberate masculinity, even that which resided inside women, from cosmic attachment. Thus, it was important for the education of masculine and feminine sentiments as they occurred in infinite variegation both among and within each individual. Morality required that each be given its due: what most fulfilled it.

Ultimately, it was the masculine principle that required and craved emancipation more than the feminine: literal liberation from this world.

I gather from reading them that this meaning of emancipation is not one that women have been much envious of. This should make clear, if nothing else does, how little Weininger was addressing women, and in what sense, as Allan Janik says, Weininger’s argument, in the end, turns on men.

(It has often occurred to me on reading especially the more radical feminists that these women were writing less to convince men of anything than to make women realize their condition. The writings have seemed polemics intending first to arouse indignation by spelling out the abuses of patriarchy, but there is also an implication that if the abuses are allowed to continue beyond this realization there will be genuine cause for self-accusation and self-indignation. The warning seems to be that if women have once been made to feel self-hatred at the hands of men, there will come a time when they will be complicit in their condition, if they are not already. The best feminist arguments must draw this conclusion, at least implicitly. Similarly, the best moralist arguments by men about men, such as we take Weininger’s to be.

The logic of victimization is not static.)]

Szabados locates Wittgenstein’s quarrel with Weininger:

What Wittgenstein negates is Weininger’s essentialism and project of characterology, since such a way of thinking is alien to the resolute anti-essentialism of Wittgenstein’s later work. The important truth that the negation of Weininger’s book yields is a method that dispenses with essentialist protoypes, which are the sources of dogmatism and prejudice, a method which urges us to look and see how persons and things really are.

[The injunction by any philosopher—and Wittgenstein is scarcely the first to make it—“to look and see how people and things really are” is always one against a background perceived to be one of the abuse of appearances. Wittgenstein had others in mind than Weininger when he made such gestures. In Weininger he saw brilliantly illustrated the whole drama of how appearances can come to obscure, not so much reality, but other appearances whose value is augmented directly in proportion to their having been neglected—or at least this is what, we say, he should have seen. Szabados’ suggestion is too pat. Weininger was not an essentialist in quite the unthinking way that Wittgenstein criticized. His characterology was far more sophisticated than that. It even offered tools for undoing prejudices that might arise from a too blatant indulgence of essentializing tendencies, ones that Wittgenstein, himself, as Szabados will later remark, also appropriated…

What Wittgenstein should have meant, if he didn’t in fact, in negating Weininger’s book is the distorted assimilation of it especially by even otherwise thoughtful people.]


The next passage mentioning Weininger, from the early 1930s, occurs in the fragments published as Philosophical Grammar (p. 176-7):

If I say that this face has an expression of gentleness, or kindness, or cowardice I don’t seem just to mean that we associate such and such feelings with the look of the face, I’m tempted to say that the face itself is one aspect of the cowardice, kindness, etc. (Compare e.g. Weininger). It is possible to say: I see cowardice in this face (and might see it in another too) but at all events it doesn’t seem to be merely associated, outwardly connected, with the face; the fear has the multiplicity of the facial features.

Szabados links this passage to similar ones found in the Brown Book, the Nachlass, and the Philosophical Investigations. The idea that the joining of severable impressions, assumed by associationist psychology [and, we might add, a related proneness to conceptual atomization in philosophical analysis], exhausts our understanding of attribution is being attacked by both Weininger and Wittgenstein.

[The passage recalls Weininger’s animal metaphysics. We don’t just associate externally cowardliness, criminality, extreme heteronomy, etc. with the dog. The dog in our understanding has these conditions built in. But these are not moral denigrations of dogs. The dog happens to be the part of the mirror of the universe that reflects our moral composition.]


The fifth passage noted by Szabados is from the collection, Culture and Value, edited by G. H. von Wright, trans. by Peter Winch, University of Chicago, 1980. Quoted here in full:

16e [C&V]
In western civilization the Jew is always measured on scales which do not fit him. Many people can see clearly enough that the Greek thinkers were neither philosophers in the western sense nor scientist in the western sense, that the participants in the Olympian games were not sportsmen and do not fit in to any western occupation. But it is the same with the Jews. And by taking the words of our <language>1 as the only possible standards we constantly fail to do them justice. So at one time they are overestimated, at another underestimated. Spengler is right in this connection not to classify Weininger with the philosophers [thinkers] of the West.

1 Editor’s conjecture.

[What is it about Weininger that made Spengler and Wittgenstein want not to place him in the philosophical tradition of the West? A certain Manichean orientalism? A willingness to pursue his adopted moral logic to extravagant, however rigorous, existential conclusions? Was it the spirit of a Kant gone mad? Recall that Nietzsche had already dubbed Kant the “Chinaman of Königsberg.” (Kant is among the most respected of Western philosophers in eastern philosophy departments, a fact sometimes explained by certain affinities the Königsberger’s ethics has with Confucian thought.) Did Weininger out orientalize Kant? Perhaps as only a Jew could do? As an outsider, one deeply invested in his adopted tradition but with special insight into the weakness and vulnerability of his native one? Yet also cognizant of the fact that his outsider heritage gave him a special vantage point from which to see critically what those too ensconced in it failed to? Namely, it’s floundering moral ideals, epitomized in the fin de siècle decadence of that “hot house” of culture, Vienna?

Perhaps, it was the element of biologism? Notwithstanding how very Jewish, Philistine, and scientistic it was.

A little “Orientalist” Sermon

The “orientalist” treatment of women? But this smacks of culture-bound misperception, aside from the fact that Weininger explicitly disavows any such suggestion. Moreover, it recalls a common tendency for a culture to displace the source of its own abuses to foreign, poorly understood, but superficially relevant, mores.

For a more recent example, Joel Feinberg, in a well-known paper defending a libertarian perspective on free expression, avails himself of the Latin cultural trope of “Machismo” and its pernicious infusion into Western liberal societies to explain the outer reaches of pornographic depictions of women, the implication being that this is a cultural management problem and not one endemic to the nature of masculinity and the latter’s very proprietary sanctification of individual liberty. (One needn’t disagree with Feinberg’s valuation of liberty to face the ugliness inherit in it.)

But the macho cultural trope is far more nuanced and internally balanced than Feinberg cares to give it credit for. In its purer Latin form, machismo implies a great deal of respect for the feminine and enforces a rigid system of honor in male deportment especially around women. Women are indeed not treated as equals, rather they are treated as respectfully incommensurable. There is a fateful recognition of feminine power and there are rules governing what is permitted in what is recognized as an inevitable struggle between women and men. The rules will be abused and there are consequences, but there is at least one less layer of self-deception in the path of the recognition of abuse, one less such as that artificially imposed by the overly abstracted sense of human equality of Northern European origin. Forced efforts to de-genderize intersex relations, to subsume them under moral rules governing sexless persons that have been in vogue, more or less, for sometime especially among the partially educated, are ahead of the game. They presuppose that our biology can evolve as fast as the stories about who we have (or ought to have) become that fill our heads.

There is real tragedy here. It is not that attempts to universalize ethics by abstracting from the irrelevant, as some might tend to think, are intrinsically wrong or evil or misguided. It is that the cart is being placed before the horse. We philosophize, still, from the standpoint of a very incarnated dioecious species. Nothing said here casts aspersions on the ambition to ascend to something greater than that. But we don’t do it with any chance of success if we think our bathrooms have evolved beyond the point of needing mirrors.

Similar things apply to current (2006) Western liberal assessments of the role of women in Islamic societies.

We are not justifying the abuse of anyone by anyone in any culture. And to cast this as the old debate about relativism in ethics is to miss the point. Abuse happens in every culture (one need only read what feminists from “emerging societies” have to say about what passes for enlightened treatment of women in the “developed” world), but when much else is oppressing a given culture, it is highly likely that under the strain internal abuse will not be contained by native institutions that might otherwise serve up correctives. The fact that we can speak of abuse happening in every culture is evidence, itself, that, in at least the usual sense, relativism isn’t true. It may certainly seem in a given society that abusive practices will exceed what can be morally tolerated even by outsiders with little understanding and no sympathy.

Consider female genital mutilation: There is a genuine moral problem here crying out for solution. But we are morally culpable to think we can target what is wrong with their culture without also addressing what is wrong with ours that creates the conditions for theirs to fail. (I have in mind here the political privileges we claim vis-à-vis the rest of the world such as the right to consume scarce resources at many times the average rate for human beings across the planet. It is platitudinous to have to repeat this but we are culpably naive to think that the exploitation that goes hand in hand with indulging these privileges will not severely strain and deform the exploited native institutions to the point that the results will offend even us at the distance we take ourselves to be from them.)

The belief that there is universal ethics, a set of recognizable rights and wrongs across all human cultural boundaries is reasonable enough. Biological sensibilities are not so variegated across the species as to make it impossible for us to see wrong in certain practices regardless of cultural context, but this very fact is what makes it also inevitable that what we most object to in other cultures also exists in our own in a guise as invisible to us as theirs to them. The privileged view we have of their faults, morality requires, we must strive to turn upon ourselves. It is no excuse for us to say we do not genitally mutilate women in our culture if we accomplish the same enervation by different means: by the widespread uncritical use by the medical establishment of hysterectomy, for instance… And if this practice is finally beginning to get the scrutiny it all along deserved, what other practices do we accept that we ought not? Whose business is it to look for them? Whoever that might be we can say for sure that it is nobody’s moral business to stand in the way of their revelation.]


…Wittgenstein was a life-long reader of Weininger who was probably the first philosopher read by him in early adolescence, preoccupying him even in 1950, a year before he died…

In the next few pages Szabados discusses Wittgenstein’s ambivalence about acknowledging influences. He argues for “the possibility of an unrecognized substantial and positive philosophical indebtedness” in contrast to the “negative-externalist” attitude taken by many scholars.

The importance for both Wittgenstein and Weininger of clarity and perspicuity.

Reverence for ordinary language, for the world as it is, the necessity of this reverence for the philosophical enterprise… a certain humility in the philosopher’s ambitions is required, appearances must be saved, given their due, etc….

Reverence in this sense excludes a forcing, reformative attitude and is a precondition of insight, understanding and a respect for difference.

[Such reverence has often been mistaken by shallow pates as akin or precursor to a kind political conservatism, as, indeed, the opposite, openly tinkerative, speculative, metaphysically-inclined orientation with forms of political progressiveness. Or do I have it backwards?]

This passage from Weininger (S&C, 138) is cited:

The most extraordinary wisdom is concealed in [common speech], a wisdom which reveals itself to a few ardent explorers but which is usually overlooked by the stupid professional philologists…

For Weininger reverence is diametrically opposed to criminality: the criminal displays a forcing, compelling attitude. The criminal wants to leave nothing free, does not respect autonomy, boundaries and limits: “he cannot tolerate the idea of barriers, of limits (including limits to knowledge)” (LT, 101); “he willfully treats the facts without ceremony…. It is he who scorns the object, which he does not behold and revere in its great and solemn majesty, but wants to master and enslave” (LT, 142). This attitude enables us to see Wittgenstein’s later works partly as a form of resistance against the philosopher-as-criminal, as having justice as its goal.

The importance of metaphors, both their bewitching and enabling capacities.

Projection and the moral project or duty associated with undoing its effects.

Anti-essentialism and the need to show differences, contrary to the usual view of Weininger as perpetuating stereotypes. How Wittgenstein applies Weininger’s method (of pointing out intermediacy) to bring out the richness and variegation in ordinary language, neglect of which had caused ossified concepts to generate specious philosophical tangles.

Respect for particulars and Weininger’s “‘orthopaedic’ treatment of the soul.” Wittgenstein is quoted: “The language used by philosophers is already deformed, as though by shoes that are too tight” (CV, 47).

Idealizations, as assertions that a given picture describes how it is, have their usefulness. They may serve a heuristic function in the effort to achieve clarity, but they must never close the door to explorations beyond themselves. This, Szabados suggests, Wittgenstein got in part from Weininger.

Wittgenstein’s view of how philosophical error comes about (a one-sided diet of examples) and the need for seeing differences is linked to Weininger’s pronouncements in Sex and Character. More specifically, Szabados compares Weininger’s account of how sexual stereotyping arises—from being intimate with only one type of woman, for instance—to Wittgenstein’s view of philosophical disease and the overuse of one type of example.

Szabados comments on Wittgenstein’s remark on Spengler, suggesting that while Wittgenstein certainly makes use of Spengler’s morphological comparisons (“family resemblances”), there is also in Wittgenstein’s remark expressed criticism in a Weiningerian spirit. The object of comparison for Spengler too easily is confused for the object itself. Spengler fails to keep a respectful, heuristic distance from them. Or so Wittgenstein seems to suggest.

An odd tension?

In an interesting postscript, Szabados confesses to having uncovered an odd tension in his reading of Wittgenstein and Weininger. On the one hand, Wittgenstein is taken to be negating Weininger’s essentialism, a facile employment of stereotypes, most clearly in his letter to Moore and in the conversation with Drury. On the other, Szabados is at some pains to show that there was much positive insight (as well as inspiration) that Wittgenstein openly took from Weininger for his own purposes: most importantly, Weininger’s, at times, very clear anti-essentialist warnings. So which is it?

Szabados suggests, in essence, that Weininger was just inconsistent and confused. Wittgenstein clearly saw this and showed discrimination in his appropriation. Thus he could both negate and acknowledge Weininger.

[But we are more inclined to accept Weininger at face value. He was, strictly speaking, neither essentialist nor opposed to it sufficiently to be labeled “anti-essentialist.” Both were tendencies he might have eschewed. His excuse was always heuristic. And essentialist methods might well serve that purpose in some contexts as well as their counterparts in others. The issue surrounding essentialism is a bit of a red herring. To see Weininger as one or the other is simply to place too much stress on isolated passages in his writing. The real concern lies somewhere else.

Taken as whole, there is a coherent, powerful argument in his writing that does not entail garden varieties of sexism or anti-Semitism (what we think is really exercising the rather paranoid fear of essentialism). As we have argued in many places, there is a reason why he should have courted misunderstanding by using the language and citing the truisms he did that had nothing to do with hatred of women or pathological self-hatred. We prefer to think that if Weininger made a “mistake” of global or monumental proportions it was that of overestimating the discernment of his readers.]

Intro | I | II | III | IV | V | VI

Posted by luno in Wittgenstein, Weininger (Friday January 4, 2008 at 1:40 pm)

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