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On Weininger’s death

Olivia Dresher interviews Bianco Luno

Did he [Otto Weininger] feel that the desire to live, itself, is evil?

No. But there might be some lives, because of their inauthenticity, that would be as good (or bad) as death.

But wouldn’t that include nearly everyone—inauthentic lives?

It would include most men, and perhaps a few women, but not most women. Being “authentic” requires something very different from women. Authenticity (like morality, as he understood it) can only apply to beings that have a mandate to develop and refine consciousness: to become ever more aware of what one’s real business here is and to carry it out and to avoid distraction, which is what the whole material world seems bent on supplying. Women, by contrast, have their “business here” more or less built in. The challenge for them is to either accept it or not. This is not a moral choice. It is in the end an aesthetic choice. They cannot be blamed no matter what choice they make (accept for, perhaps, having made a choice, not sticking to it, but even this blame would be an aesthetic criticism, not a moral one). For men, it is a moral choice, meaning there will be blame and guilt for having made the wrong one. It is not optional. Failure to refine consciousness is culpable, is criminal.

(My use of the word “moral” here and below is the male one, the one Weininger used. This whole thing could be described in a way in which “moral” meant something quite different, but then all the other evaluative words would change meaning also. That’s in fact what one must do to supplement this picture. Many thoughtful feminists are, in fact, working to describe the view from their corner. Thanks to Weininger and the feminists, whether they realize(ed) it or not, a full picture is emerging. I think this is just becoming clear to some.)

And didn’t he hold the view that human beings should phase themselves out?

That would tend to be the natural consequence of carrying out the never-ending refinement of consciousness. But it is not the goal, per se, of that mandate: to phase people out. That’s just how it would end if everyone took it seriously. “Never-ending”, meaning it would never end until the last consciousness faded from this world.

That seems to imply that he thought that the desire to live is not moral.

The desire to live, in itself, is morally neutral. What we do or become while we are here is morally relevant. Because so few people (and I do mean mostly men) live as though each moment was morally relevant, it can certainly seem as though most people’s lives are not worth much. So it can seem as though life, itself, is not worth much. Indeed, watch men behave. All the murder and mayhem… Doesn’t it seem as though life is not worth much, at least to them?

And, after all, he killed himself. As if to get rid of the desire to live once and for all. Why do you think he killed himself?

I think I answered that already. The natural consequence of the refinement of consciousness for men is that they will come to judge their own lives very harshly. They will come to see how far apart their ideals are from the reality it is their responsibility to create. For one thing, they become conscious of their own destructiveness and resentment of the world. By contrast the world seems innocent. The world without them in it would be a better place. They come to see that they don’t deserve to breathe anymore. They become conscious of their innate murderousness and criminality. The idea that one might “not deserve to breathe anymore” is very foreign to a feminine perspective. If a woman ever came to that consciousness, it would be seen as defect or illness not as natural consequence of her development as a woman.

The sharp and utter realization of this to an intense, passionate temperament can easily lead to a “derangement” resulting in self-execution. I say “derangement” only because that is how it must seem to those of us with our feet firmly planted in the muck of material reality, those of us not in that supremely lucid state. Kant, whose moral logic Weininger worked out as no one had done before, really believed a crime is committed in the heart before it is committed in fact. The murderer is guilty the moment he conceives his project. From that point on whether he ever succeeds in acting out the killing or not is irrelevant to his guilt. “It’s the thought that counts,” people sometimes say. Kant believed it is the thought that morally convicts. The fact that we punish people for murders and not for thinking about murdering has less to do with the difference in guilt than with the fact that it is easier to prove that an actual murder happened than that the thought of bringing one about occurred.

And that suicide itself is the ultimate moral act?

No, suicide is a criminal act. Because it uses the life of a rational being for ends that are themselves not rational, i.e., the relief of torment and pain. It is just like murder. And like murder it deserves the greatest punishment. Which just happens to be death.

[Editor’s Note: Luno’s views on capital punishment are more subtle than this remark might imply.]

No, it is not a moral act. But in some circumstances, it may be the least immoral of alternatives as when the alternative is an inauthentic life: a life of deadness, a life void of a meaning that does not grow out of who one is or has made of oneself.

But Weininger killed himself. Are you saying that he killed himself because his life was inauthentic?


From an email interview on Thursday, 14 Aug 2003.

Posted by luno in interviews, suicide, male criminality, Weininger (Tuesday September 20, 2005 at 1:21 pm)

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