a philosophy blog

Weininger’s misogyny (or what we talk about when we talk about hate)

“Self-hatred is the best foundation for self-examination.”
—Otto Weininger, On Last Things1

Bad, bad boy


Otto Weininger said a lot bad things about women.2 He said, to list a few, that women do not have any minds, souls, or egos and that they lack the capacity for genius, compassion and ethics. He was neither the first, nor certainly the last to express these sentiments. Nor have they always been men. Germane Greer, for instance, agreed with and thought the feminine dearth of ego a rather pleasant feature.3 The number of feminist theoreticians who have elevated body to heights where only mind was once rumored to inhabit by men is legion. If by “soul” one means a perduring account of one’s accomplishments or merits for heterocosmic judgment in the fullness of time, not a few feminists would miss not having one not at all. And even compassion, at least as men typically describe it, has had its suitability as applied to feminine feelings of solidarity with the suffering of others questioned. Carol Gilligan observed that what women feel has less to do with putting oneself in someone else’s shoes—someone marked out as separate from us, than with overriding the premised separation.4 The term “co-passion” has been proffered in its place.

What I think Weininger is really most often derided for is his relative devaluation of feminine versus masculine traits and principles—or rather, his arrant exposition of it. I won’t attempt to defend here the reality of the sex differences he blithely trotted out. I think the evidence for them has always been blindingly obvious. Now, after a long spell, the fog of perhaps understandable denial seems to be lifting. Perhaps it was necessary to buy time to establish, articulate and legitimate an alternative point of reference for viewing and evaluating those differences.

Less often addressed and, in the end, more challenging is why Weininger went about cataloging those differences in the unvarnished way he did, what really motivated him, and indeed are we even correct to say he did devalue the feminine? I think we have something to learn if we pretend5 he was not a jerk, not self-hating in any but perhaps a constructive way and not particularly concerned with putting down women. And most emphatically not sick in any way that gives us permission to dismiss his ideas.

After acknowledging the importance of sexual difference in a fashion that can only remind us of Weininger (though she does not mention him by name) in one of the most important works, in my view, of feminist philosophy since de Beauvoir, Sylviane Agacinski describes the logic that has historically pervaded the situation as one “of lack.”6 She means that after we layout the differences, the seemingly unquestioned procedure, still practiced by both men and women, is then to sort out all those we can esteem, give them positive names, and accord their opposites or their complements derivative or secondary or, in some way, lesser value. It so happens women have usually been saddled with the lioness’s share of the latter, which has been used to justify their subordinate place in every sphere considered of the first importance: public/private, work/family, father/mother, reason/emotion, freedom/security, justice/mercy, 1/0, … if laws were required to define the default position of a toilet seat, as there are about which side of the road we drive on, we know which way it would go. It is understandable why so many have wanted to abolish the binary aspect of sex, since as long as there are two, one, it seems, has always insinuated itself on top, the one, that is, that was deemed as not “lacking”.

Weininger, to many readers, seems only to have gotten so far in his discriminations and inferences as this “logic of lack.” Nevertheless, he worked out the prerequisites for transcending this logic through his recognition of the criminal nature of the male moral orientation–that is to say, its bastard quality, and in his belief that women are wholly other in their native choice of values. She is ensconced in the world, framed between contingency and necessity, in a way in which he is not, as he makes plain through his behavior, his primal and tortured relation to rules, and his centuries of considered judgment upon them. The importance of positing and valuing the distinction ‘a’ or ‘not-a’, which Weininger averred so easily escaped her, cannot be viewed consistently as moral flaw. The refusal to accept as stricture what has not been dealt her as fate but as concocted abstraction motivated by urges not her own is an indication of her amorality. (The impassioned may be inclined to view what does not count in support of their cause as counting against it, but this is not a tenable inference. A moment’s sobriety should call to mind that the world, the one made of stardust, is indifferent to our agenda. What is amoral is as far away from the immoral as it is from the moral.) She is a being to which morality as men know it does not apply. For men, “logic and morality are one” in the Weiningerian sense involving necessity. The purpose of logic and morality in the realms of understanding and action is to order his inherent impulse to destruction and chaos. Whatever is destructive in woman, at least it can be said, is accidental or contingent and is not freighted with the air of intrinsic inevitability. Weininger certainly did not quite get to the point of saying this explicitly, but had he lived a little longer, we suspect, this next car in the train of inferences could hardly have escaped him.

Many have detected irrational misogyny in Weininger, a hatred of women not born of any logical foundation. Most hatred is lacking in logical foundation, born of some encounter with stupidity. If it seems we meet with one that isn’t missing in this department, we might want to reconsider whether we are truly seeing hatred where there is really something quite different. But if we insist, nevertheless, that it is evident hatred, we shall be obligated to ask after some contextual, biographical, or psychological contingency—or we should go back and reconsider what is evident. There seem to be only three possible etiological explanations for received opinion on the matter of Weininger’s hatred of women: his milieu, his upbringing, or some psychopathology. We will consider these in order:

i. Social vs. intellectual environment


There is a real apolitical streak in Weininger. One might even say a rabid one. There is no direct interest in promoting any social or political agenda. (Perhaps, as feminists, we may have forgotten this as even a possibility.) His obsession is first and last heterocosmic. When he seems to oppose a garden variety of women’s emancipation, when he suggests that women who seek political equality with men stray from some biologically “assigned” roles, it is easy to forget that these paradigmatic scripts, specifically those of mother and prostitute, are not ones that Weininger believes any external institution ought to assign to women. Far from it, these are modes of being almost pathologically endemic to women as genius7 and criminal are, for their part, to men. The social problem is that the vast majority of men tend toward the latter: the strenuousness of the former is forbidding. Geniushood is more imperative or aspiration than state. Criminality is what happens when effort is not taken.

Otto Dix - Big City, 1927-8, left panelThe Weiningerian archetypes, mother and prostitute, are not to be understood as operating with the same internal dynamic as the male counterparts just described. More specifically, a prostitute is not a female criminal. That would imply a moral fall from a height that no woman would attempt to scale in the first place. The prostituted state may well be a degraded one but only from a perspective extrinsic to any male moral stricture. Indeed, within a distinctly feminine morality, motherhood, too, can just easily enter degradation. The moral world of a woman is simply not bipolar in the same way as that of a man.

It may be the peculiar tragedy of woman to succumb to the conditions of mother and prostitute, but the moral problem for Weininger is that anyone is ever assigned any role. The Kantian recoils at such violation of the radical freedom so essential to autonomous self-determination.Otto Dix - Pregnant Woman, 1966 The problem for women is that they too easily slip into heteronomy; for men, that they too easily assert a false autonomy. The former is a weakness, the latter viciousness. What one’s socio-historical, even biological, envelope happens to be is irrelevant except in that, whatever it may be, it must be resisted to the degree it impedes the development of radical autonomy. And since the environment is a profoundly impersonal force, it always will. Milieu, the aegis of the dominant culture and understanding of a place and time, is thus morally irrelevant. How most men actually think about women is a fact that shapes expression and helps determine strategy, but it does not speak to how men should think about women.

Thus Weininger can repeat with apparent endorsement such offhanded quips as “the longer the hair the smaller the brain.”8 His intended audience consisted of men. (Indeed, perhaps one man in particular, as we will suggest below.) To get their attention he needed to acknowledge their prejudices. But his subversive conclusion had nothing to add to–and indeed, we argue, much to subtract from–these prejudices. For, in the end, it would be a ringing indictment of all male involvement in this world.

Understood in this way, Weininger’s seemingly contradictory pronouncements about women’s emancipation should be clearer. Women would be truly emancipated once they understood they were not equal with men. Once women understood what maleness truly consisted of the wish to stoop so low might never occur to them. They would be emancipated when they came to understand they are not men. The best a male morality has to offer women is the freedom to volunteer under his rules—or not, as the case may be. But these same rules are not optional for men.

There is a venerable moral tradition that culminates in Otto Weininger. It is not my point that we ought to accept this tradition wholesale. But a tremendous amount of our moral infrastructure is founded upon it. The best known expressions of this theory can be found in Kant and Mill, whose ethics, usually treated as competing, have this very much in common. But it permeates throughout Western moral thinking, showing up even in de Beauvoir, as Agacinski reveals. It has been for too long taken to be a theory with application to all human beings when it is, in fact, androcentric to its core. That theory has at its center the prioritization of autonomy through a species of atomizing freedom. Because he took the alienation implied in this view of human fulfillment to its logical conclusion, Weininger’s thinking is an important step in the history of moral theory. His work was not a thoughtpiece of calumny or the last shameless gasp of a dying patriarchy. His dismissal on these grounds is worse than irresponsible.

ii. Family


Might something have happened in the 23 years of Weininger’s earthly existence to seed his now infamously monolithic resentment of women? Some taste of sour grapes or nastiness between him and some woman? (Some childhood slight analogous to what, as some would have it, explains Hitler?) We know little about his short life beyond what Abrahamsen gathered in his biography and what we can glean from his long-lived brother’s memoir written very late in his life.9 The shortness assures us of the looming importance of his mother and father. That he worshiped his “tyrannical” father, that his mother especially passed onto him her gift for languages, that his father cloistered his mother, that his sister tried unsuccessfully to foist her girlfriend upon him, that he may have been homosexual, that after Otto’s suicide his father claimed that Otto was not unacquainted intimately with women… none of this gives us any compelling reason to think that Weininger had any special reason to dislike, let alone, hate women.10 Pity them, perhaps…

If anything, it is more likely to suggest (to borrow terminology from those we are just about to criticize) a “passive-aggressive” plot against his father. Otto may well have accomplished what he openly feared would happen: that what he said would be used to justify mistreatment of women. But we are inclined to think he had an extraordinary motive in taking the chance. What follows is speculation, of course, but it is worth exercising because it seems at least as plausible, given the facts available to us, as the usual explanation that Weininger merely reflected and even magnified the topical misogyny of his time. Moreover, quite apart from any concern for historical accuracy, these surmises, we think, are instructive in their own right.

We have no reason to doubt that he loved his father. And frankly none to doubt that he also loved his mother. That he became in the last years of his life, if he was not from the beginning, profoundly serious and morally obsessed is everywhere attested. His father, highly respected internationally as (he modestly called himself) “an artisan” stood as a powerful symbol of male strength and was known to all as a man of the highest moral purpose. Yet this father also treated his mother as a child. He robbed her of any chance of exercising her autonomy. Weininger’s mother, as we have said, had an extraordinary gift for languages. We have to believe she would have liked to use her gifts. But she was not allowed to go places that even her small children were. Weininger knew where his own linguistic facility probably came from. Perhaps, he asked himself how a father with such unwavering conviction in the transcendent world of the late Wagner, in the proud world of moral duty, could have had such confidence in the rightness of stunting his wife’s development, how he could have failed to see she had any development outside of common domesticity to be concerned with. It can’t be said Leopold Weininger was a mere product of his time to such a degree that it might never have occurred to him that his treatment of Adelheid was suspect. The idea that a woman might choose to do something other than grace a home was certainly in the Viennese air of the time. Otto’s book itself testified to it. Let’s also assume—because it would make the picture more believable—that Leopold Weininger really did love “in his own way” Adelheid, and that she perhaps too easily acquiesced in her domestic sequestration… Why, let’s assume everybody loved everybody since that would nicely clear the air of local and imponderably petty issues and allow us to deal with the fundamental and universal one. Where did Leopold derive the moral license to treat Weininger’s mother the way he did? (Never mind, for the moment, Adelheid’s complicity.) For this is what mattered to the morally impassioned Otto. And while Kant may have supplied the apparatus it was his father who was responsible for instilling in him his passion for ethics.

Otto would have his work cut out explaining this. Just where did men get off imposing themselves upon the material universe of which women become the inevitable symbols? There had better be a good reason. The righteous young philosopher decided to get to the bottom of it. The “woman problem”—that is, what moral role woman plays in society, if any, since this will determine all supervenient roles except the biological—became his problem. But it didn’t take long for him to see that the problem implicated men as well, that it is every bit as much a “man problem”. In the bifurcation of the species he sought principles that would make the messiness of intersex relations perspicuous. His investigation of the principles of sexual difference, his book, Geschlecht und Charakter, an unruly pandemonium11 of ideas, if ever there was one, nevertheless, probed this issue with an earnestness like none other before in human history.

The conclusion he was to draw, it may surprise you, was that his father’s behavior was understandable but wrong. How does one tell someone one loves that he and all like him are hypocrites? Gently but firmly. You give him enough rope and hope he hangs himself with it. And if you are fortunate to not live long enough to see what typically happens—that the loved one will not hang himself—you die spared a certain cynicism. Weininger was so lucky.

The gentle part was the exposition of what it is about men that was most noble and how little of this existed in women. The firm part was making explicit what such nobility demanded of those so blessed (or so cursed).

We do not find anything in Weininger’s meager time on earth to motivate a misogyny worthy of his reputation. His focus was from beginning to end on the morality of men. Any role that women play in it is purely environmental or lamentably instrumental.12 They remain essentially adiaphorous, part and parcel of the natural world. It falls to them to remain stage props in the background of a largely male morality play, “ravaged like the landscape in war,” as Luno puts it. And as such they can scarcely be objects of hate. Only moral subjects, participants in the Kant’s kingdom of ends, may, to the degree of their culpable depravity, be the targets of such righteous indignation and resentment. To blame an object is the surest sign of one’s own moral failure.

One may, of course, consider exclusion from that kingdom of ends itself a sign of severe disesteem. Perhaps, but only from within a larger moral framework than the one Weininger, we must say, accurately mapped. Indeed, to get beyond Weininger, we must first understand Weininger, and very few have even today approached this.

iii. Pathology


To hear people today dole out psychological advice, we still live in the shadow of the place and time in which Weininger lived. Vienna 1900 forever changed how we judge human motivation or even whether we judge it or merely describe it. It amazes us that Freud, whose own work, whether he acknowledged it or not, owes something to the young man whose early manuscript he had the privilege of being among the first in the world to read, did not devote an entire book to him, especially given his own obsession with genius and psychopathology. But Weininger’s treatment of genius contrasts with Freud’s in that the former was not primarily concerned with pathology but with normativity. Weininger was doing philosophy, not psychology.13 He proceeded as though we would do well to first understand the governing principles of what is normal before we chance judgment on the deviant. Thus, Freud, never mind his own faux empiricism, reacted coolly to the arm-chair philosophizing in Weininger’s early draft, suggesting another decade of clinical experience would stand the young man in good stead. Still, Freud clearly recognized Weininger’s gift and singularity, even hazarding a psychoanalytic opinion or two on him. (This is how Freud paid homage to all his heroes: by isolating their neuroses.) For a time Weininger’s name was more widely known than his own, indeed, was in part responsible for his own notoriety. Despite that, Freud alluded to him only in correspondence and footnotes.14

Still riding Freud’s coat tails, David Abrahamsen’s 1947 psychobiography, The Mind and Death of a Genius, pretty much set the tone for decades on the proper (“apolitical”) interpretation (or shall we say “treatment”) of Weininger. Where Weininger’s anti-Semitic pronouncements in another age might have passed in intellectually respectable quarters as trenchant moral and social criticism, in the wake of Holocaust traumatization a wounded civilization could scarcely accept any but analgesic gestures at truth. Self-criticism became pathology. Curiously, those who saw the self-hatred of a Jew did not also detect the self-castigation consequent on being an extremely moral man. Indeed, we suspect that fear of coming to terms with the latter made the former an enticing excuse for dismissal. The young Weininger could not but be supposed “a case,” a muddle of just about every neurosis known to the field at the time.15

Now fully a century since the inauguration of the age of pathology the scientism still rages. One has to search hard to find a voice willing to judge Weininger by his principles and weigh their applicability. Ironically, some of the most honest assessments of Weininger and his work have come from radical feminists. Germane Greer, for example, noted insightfully in The Female Eunuch that Weininger was not a particularly egregious exception. He was the unabashed voice of all men. Among the first to review the early English translation of Sex & Character, Charlotte Perkins Gilman took what Weininger had to say quite seriously and felt compelled to respond to him, not as a sick man, but as one whose views deserved to be supplemented, if not countered.16 It is not my point that these and many other women who read Weininger fully understood him, but that they correctly recognized that Weininger expressed guileless truths about how men experience the world and, perforce, women that were far, far from peculiar to him.

By contrast, the run of male commentators on Weininger have either swallowed whole the misogynistic bait, that is to say, used Sex & Character as formal vindication for what they had always thought about women or—thinking too highly of themselves to do any such thing—sought to pathologize, contextualize or in some other way marginalize a voice too disturbingly close to spilling their secret. If we are not to assume that most men hate women, it is incumbent upon us to find fitter explanations for why Weininger said the things he did.

Annette Baier once called David Hume “the woman’s philosopher.” The importance Hume placed on feeling and community in his picture of how human societies actually function morally makes the appeal of this judgment difficult to resist. If there is such a thing as “a man’s philosopher”—not to presume too quickly that all philosophers to speak of have been that—we submit it would be (no, not Weininger): Kant. Though, Kant himself seemed only dimly aware of it. To Weininger, however, goes the credit for having made this crystal clear. And in a world for a thousand reasons too invested in sexual folly to see naked the underlying principles governing human valuations of behavior (i.e., what we naively call ethics as though it had to do with mythologically generic and not sexed beings), Weininger’s accomplishment was no small one. We are inclined to concur with Bianco Luno that Weininger’s infamous “mistake”17 was to badly underestimate the resistance his insight would face.

There are two things, Weininger asserts in effect, that bar the path to the emancipation and moral fulfillment of women: men and, more painful to admit, themselves. Men have their own agenda which is clearly not hers, and feminists and those who sympathize with them have known and focused on this for a long time. But there is an obstacle she must overcome that comes from deep inside her—as criminality and obstreperousness does for him. Just as an entire moral, legal and political infrastructure has arisen—swallowing her up as an afterthought—in response to what are essentially his liabilities, so must she develop a moral injunction indigenous to the realm of her proprietary sensibilities but wary of her vulnerabilities. There are some signs this is beginning to happen. The work of Gilligan, Agacinski and many others seems to be directed toward a distinctly feminine moral agenda, a “categorical imperative,” as it were, but not quite Kant’s, as Weininger suggested in the final paragraphs of Sex and Character, rather one whose roots stem from her very reason for existing.

An eleemosynary conclusion


Finally, we feel the occasion calls for repeating a few platitudes about charity in interpreting the words of dead writers and thinkers.18 We have, of course, potent excuses for seeking to interpret them to suit our agendas. (No doubt, these will in turn require charity in the eyes of future generations.) If someone seems to be saying something too difficult to square with our already developed sensibilities without elaborate explanation, we feel compelled from exigency to judge the motive as antagonistic. (“You’re either with us or against us…,” an American president once said.) Our sensibilities were developed at great price and any but the greatest diligence in protecting them from retrogression is culpable. So if a writer says things that on their face offend these sensibilities, the tendency is to dismiss—even if the writer also says other things that might, with a little more mental exercise on our part, actually strengthen those sensibilities by making us more conscious of how sensibilities come about in the first place. I am, of course, addressing especially those of you who actually take some pride in your having risen above the ignorant masses to espouse progressive views on gender, race, class, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. (I cannot imagine what anyone else would get out of what I write here… perhaps because it requires no imagination whatsoever.)

“But we do not live in the long run,” you say. “Barbarism abounds, the enemy is at the gate… The idiocies that harry us today do not make fine discriminations….” But I fear the ones tomorrow will not either. No one discriminates finely. And that is exactly the problem.

I am tempted to end by saying that it should not matter what the others do, I am addressing you. Your task is keeping your sensibilities both intact and athletic. As you survey your possible reactions, whenever it is within your capacity to grasp it, a stressful reading always has more to teach you than one that comports with your peace of mind. And, dare I say it, it is your duty never to let this capacity flag…

If Weininger can be interpreted to challenge your settled convictions, that is how he should be interpreted. His toxic flattery of the masculine principle should redound to the feminine. Any other way is… but I stop here. I have already said more than can be believed.

Iaia Gombrowicz
3 August 2005



1. As quoted in David Abrahamsen, The Mind and Death of a Genius, (Columbia University Press, 1946), 65. In Steven Burns’ translation: “Self-haters are the greatest self-observers. All self-observation is a haters’ phenomenon…” A Translation of Weininger’s Über die letzten Dinge (1904/1907)/On Last Things (The Edwin Mellen Press, 2001), 28.

2. …about Jews, too, of course, but I will leave that for another time. The dynamics there are as interesting but of a tellingly different order.

3. Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch, (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1970), see the chapter “Womanpower.”

4. Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice, (Harvard University Press, 1982). Gilligan’s cause in this now classic work has been taken up by an entire school of moral philosophers including Annette Baier and Nell Noddings. Gilligan’s book together with Agacinski’s (see note 6.) nicely complement Weininger.

5. I mean “pretend” here in the same spirit I will pretend my reader is not an idiot. Pretending so helps me to marshal my wits.

6. Sylviane Agacinski, Politique des sexes, (Editions du Seuil, 1998), translated as Parity of the Sexes by Lisa Walsh, (Columbia University Press, 2001), 32. Agacinski’s suspicion that sex difference is foundational to the structure of ethics and politics remarkably parallels Weininger’s yet appears to have been generated from within a feminist tradition not directly contaminated by him. The net effect is to strengthen an insight when it can be approached from radically disparate directions.

7. It is important to remember that, for Weininger (as for Wittgenstein after him), genius is not a congenital but a moral predicate. The genius is self-made or he is not a genius. It is a conscious moral courage whose effectiveness may in some degree depend on innate talent or acquired skill but whose worthiness, at least, can well be sustained without either.

Though the imperative to geniushood is not quite described as pathological in Weininger, there is a sense, outside this purely male perspective, in which it may be seen that way. Wittgenstein, for one, was hounded by it. If life and all that it entails is indeed what matters, and not self-observation and judgment, then it is right to speak of it as diseased. To what extent the imperative to genius dogged Weininger is apparent in his last act. (One is reminded of the symbolism of the dog in his last writings.)

8. Otto Weininger, Sex & Character (London: Heinemann, 1906), 68, par 163. In the new Ladislaus Löb translation, Sex and Character (Indiana University Press, 2005), 60.

9. Richard Weininger, Exciting Years, (Hicksville, NY: Exposition Press, 1978).

10. Hatred, true hatred, common sense should tell us, is likely to have had a history of insecurity born of extreme, almost indescribable abuse and the lucidity this entails—and is for that very reason quite rare. More commonly, what goes by that name is mere stupidity or callousness encouraged by environment. We don’t mean to underestimate the badness of tolerated stupidity and callousness by using “mere” to describe them. The evil these engender is often enough responsible for genocide, but “hatred” is still not the right word to describe it… People who instigate genocide do not actually hate their victims, the way a jilted, vengeful lover might his. Strictly speaking, crowds are as incapable of hate as they are of love. Rather, they have come to believe things that only training in stupidity could have prepared them for. There is no trace of any such background in Weininger’s upbringing.

11. Jacques LeRider in Le Cas Otto Weininger (1982) describes Weininger’s book thus: “…a dreadful pandemonium teeming with the worst forms of fanaticism: anti-feminism, anti-semitism, a passion for irrationalist metaphysics.” Quoted here from Emile Delavenay, “Lawrence, Otto Weininger and ‘Rather Raw Philosophy’” in D. H. Lawrence: New Studies edited by Christopher Heywood. (London: The MacMillan Press, 1987), 137.

12. If women were in any sense morally culpable as well, it would have to be within an entirely different game with rules utterly incommensurable to those set down by Kant which Weininger pursued with more rigor than Kant himself. As Luno has described him, “Weininger is the reductio ad absurdum of Kant—that or an invitation, a modus ponens leading somewhere quite different…”

13. At least, not in the sense of what we might call “psychology” today. Admittedly, the eventual separation of the disciplines—psychology in the direction of clinical and experimental science, philosophy toward logical and phenomenological analysis—was not yet as clear at the turn of the century. Indeed, the split seem to happen, in microcosm, in the very course of Weininger’s book, Sex and Character, itself.

14. Not surprisingly, given her disillusionment with the institutional focus on the abnormal in her early medical training at Hopkins, Gertrude Stein also shared Weininger’s perspective and discovered in him a kindred spirit. She had little taste for Freud.

Freud’s reluctance to deal head-on with Weininger, is possibly explained by the ugliness of the much discussed Fliess affair. Wilhelm Fliess accused Freud, his long time friend, of leaking an aspect of what Fliess took to be his own proprietary notion of universal bisexuality (which he had shared with Freud) to a patient, Hermann Swoboda, who happened to be a good friend of Weininger. After Weininger’s book made its international splash, Fliess thought he recognized his idea and deduced that Weininger could only have gotten the notion via Freud’s patient. The friendship never recovered. See Chandak Sengoopta, Otto Weininger: Sex, Science, and Self in Imperial Vienna (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 137-9.

The charge was dubious, to say the least, since the notion, as many commentators have noted, was very much “in the air” at the time (if not since ancient times) and, it could be argued, Weininger’s significant use of the idea was far more original than any contemplated by Fliess—or Freud, for that matter. In any case, Weininger acknowledges, with no small praise, Fleiss’s contribution to the topic in the extensive notes to Sex and Character.

15. Abrahamsen, a noted criminal psychiatrist at Columbia, went on to write popular psychobiographies on various serial killers, including Jack the Ripper and the “Son of Sam,” and on Richard M. Nixon. In various places in The Mind and Death of a Genius Weininger is pronounced manic-depressive, schizophrenic, paranoid, hysterical, repressed, incompletely socialized, masochistic, autistic, and morally hypertrophic (as though being too moral were a disorder). The background interest in criminal pathology, a certain slavish entrainment to Freudian notions such as the neurotic complexes subsequent to Jewish circumcision, and a related tendency to reduce morality to the management of pathology are all implicated in Abrahamsen’s summation of Sex & Character as a “tissue of erroneous ideas” (Abrahamsen, 172). A curious inconsistency runs through his book on Weininger: he at once seems moved to admiration by something about Weininger even as he gives us every reason to discount him as a textbook case of pathology, an object lesson in how bad things can happen to gifted people.

16. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Dr. Weininger’s Sex and Character,” The Critic: An Illustrated Monthly Review of Literature, Art and Life, vol. XLVIII, May 1906.

17. The origin of the idea that Weininger could be faulted for one grand and fantastic mistake is in a letter to G. E. Moore from Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein left us to wonder exactly what the “mistake” was. Luno toys with various possibilities. See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Letters to Russell, Keynes and Moore, edited by G. H. von Wright (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974), 159.

18. Perhaps a few living ones as well, though admittedly here opportunities for new incriminating evidence are not yet exhausted. Long lives have this liability. Weininger had this much in his favor. He had no time to retract or improve or obfuscate his message. He wrote what he wrote because, notwithstanding Freud’s advice, he probably knew he didn’t have another ten years to live.

Posted by iaia in Moral Consciousness, philosophical hatred, sex differences, Deontology, feminism, Kant, Weininger (Wednesday August 3, 2005 at 1:26 pm)

2 comments for Weininger’s misogyny (or what we talk about when we talk about hate)»

  1. But Weininger’s sister, Rosa, reports that her parents were “probably” not very happy, so where do you get the idea that Leopold loved his wife “in his own way”? There is nothing in the record about Leopold using his wife for anything but as domestic and caretaker for his children. And Otto never anywhere, to my knowledge, mentions his mother in any of his writing. I don’t understand how you can generate this fantasy about Weininger surreptitiously taking up his mother’s cause? There seems not the slightest bit of evidence for it. I find it simply incredible!

    Comment by cpgilman — 8/10/2005 @ 1:06 pm

  2. Rosa does say “probably”. Why the qualifier? She was their daughter. Who is in a better position to know whether parents are or were “happy” than their children?…

    But there is something wrong here. Do we really take the opinions of children—even and perhaps especially grown children—as authoritative on questions of this kind? How many hem and haw when asked about whether they are “happy” even in their own relationships? Let alone those of others, even those we think we ought to know quite well. Beyond someone in patent distress or elation, it is a desperate question whether someone else is happy or not. I think we should assume, unless we have incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, that someone else is only as happy or unhappy as we are, that is to say, “they are hanging in there.” (I am not addressing the very common “aspirational happiness” or what we might say to someone we don’t know or don’t want to get into a long conversation with.)

    I think we are on firmer ground to trust people to tell us about whether they felt themselves loved by their parents than we are to trust their judgment on the tangle of emotions that comprise an intimate relationship that they themselves were never party to. No doubt there must have been severe strain between Adelheid and Leopold, given the latter’s, perhaps eccentric, principledness. But if there was no love in the face of unhappiness we should have expected far worse consequences for all the children of this union.

    There are three relationships involved: the one between his parents, and the one between Otto and his mother, Adelheid, and the one with his father, Leopold.

    Commentators all seem to agree that Otto “worshipped” his father. But I find no where in his own writings where Otto says anything to suggest that he had any but a healthy honor and respect for his father, for his moral steadfastness especially in a Vienna at the time famous for everything but. There is nothing exactly excessive about his regard. Otto could very well deeply admire something about his father while entertaining reservations about him. His brother, Richard, writes in his memoir that Leopold was quite upset by what Otto said about Jews, though Leopold, a secular Jew, was hardly a philosemite. Otto was not afraid to cross his father. If an argument took him where not even his own father would be spared, he was prepared to go there.

    As for his mother, we know precious little of how she felt about all this. But none of her children, the ones we have some record of, Rosa, Otto, and Richard, had anything negative to say about her. We are led to believe she was devoted and selfless, despite her ill health. I think there is room for speculation that Otto thought she was a bit too selfless. It is scarcely unusual for a son, still in the shadow of a strong father figure, to be reticent about directly expressing his feelings about his mother.

    Moreover, there are passages in Sex and Character and in On Last Things where he says things that are not quite consistent with one who did not prize his mother’s love. He writes, for example, that “love-children” even those born out of wedlock are more likely to be healthier and to thrive than those who enter the world almost as a formality in established unions. The strength of a woman’s devotion to her chosen object of desire, and then to its issue, can override inauspicious circumstances. Indeed, it may be her chief or only resource against them.

    But it is not my purpose to put forth any but a plausible domestic setting for the thesis that Weininger himself announces in the preface to Sex and Character, “…that the investigation finally turns against Man, placing the largest, and indeed the real, share of the blame on him in a deeper sense than the feminist can imagine” (Löb trans, p. 4)—even as he despairs that women will ever grasp this. I simply find Weininger’s family situation anything but a hotbed of hatred for anyone. The real support for this lies in a philosophical analysis of Weininger ideas both internally and in their relation to moral theory before and since. For this I refer you to Luno’s writings…

    Comment by iaia — 8/10/2005 @ 1:45 pm

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