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Luno Reads Wittgenstein Reads Weininger

Notes on David G. Stern and Béla Szabados, Wittgenstein Reads Weininger

Editor’s note: Luno comments on Stern, David G. and Szabados, Béla, “Reading Wittgenstein (on) Reading: An Introduction” in Wittgenstein Reads Weininger, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 1-28. He has something to say about every essay in the collection.

While there is little, in our judgment, that is genuinely original or admirable about his [Otto Weininger’s] work, there is no doubt that it was a potent distillation of many of the most powerful prejudices of his time, presented not as opinion, but as synthesis of scientific fact and philosophical insight. Sex and Character is a little like a highbrow version of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus for turn of the century Vienna, with a good deal of racism, homophobia, and sexism thrown in.

[What are we to make of this curious statement in the context of a collection of scholarly articles purporting to document and explain Weininger’s importance for Wittgenstein? Actually, the sentence stands rather alone in an otherwise duly circumspect and substantiated introduction to the collection. Given that Wittgenstein, a philosopher worthy of this attention, should find something critical to his program in Weininger (a central point this collection is trying to make), to say that Weininger’s work is comparable to a work of rather crass popular psychology—and indeed suffers by comparison—seems to create a tension that calls for resolution. It is one thing not to understand Weininger and another to dismiss him as so many have done, as a pandemonium of prejudices. Wittgenstein didn’t dismiss him, the famous “~” notwithstanding. So why should we?

We are left to conclude, without further explanation, that the statement expresses embarrassment, before an audience perceived as not about to be disabused of its summary judgment of the work of “one of the greatest misogynist of all time” and one who has been called “Hitler’s favorite Jew.”

Howevermuch we find the collection valuable, even exciting, these two sentences remain a challenge to credibility. Either Weininger is not what he has been, in enlightened circles, perceived to be, or he is and Wittgenstein, like Heidegger, stands accused of, at least, poor moral taste.

But, of course, there is a third possibility, one that never fails to strain our sensibilities: that the highest good sometimes is intimate with the despicable. The moral world, no less than the physical, was not designed expressly for our easy assimilation. Getting this point across to a Manichean sensibility is a responsibility often shirked, because it is always thankless…

So we, too, will not go that route. Sometimes we luck out, as in this case, and it is surprisingly unnecessary. If it is at all possible, and we think it is, we take the next hardest way out: Wittgenstein moral compass was not confused. Weininger was “great” and “fantastic”—and “fantastic,” not in the sense of mythological, but in the sense of very great. His views about women and Jews and, most importantly, the character of men (the kind with penises), have yet to be fully and correctly unpacked. When this happens we believe that, contrary to most current even—and especially—enlightened opinion, Weininger will be appreciated as a worthy successor to Kant and precursor to Wittgenstein. He will be seen as an veritable Archimedian point in the moral development of the species.

And, no, in case we haven’t made this clear enough: Weininger did not advocate the prejudices he is commonly accused of. (He may have been guilty of other, perhaps, worse crimes, such as an overweening faith in humanity, but we attack him on that score elsewhere.)]

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

Posted by luno in misogyny, wake, Wittgenstein, Weininger (Friday January 4, 2008 at 1:50 pm)

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