My Views on Otto Weininger

Kevin Solway

Although I have spent a good number of years thinking about Weininger, words do not come easily to mind when I try to explain him. I think his own book, Sex and Character is the best explanation of who and what Weininger is. Unlike the many commentators I don't believe there is any dangerously hidden or dark motivation behind Weininger's work (which includes his death) that requires any explanation other than what Weininger himself provides. It seems to me that Weininger had an excellent understanding of his own nature, of his own strengths and weaknesses, and that he concealed nothing of real importance either from himself or from others. With Weininger, what you see is what you get. Nietzsche speaks of such rare and great men in his Zarathustra:

   So many a clever one had I found, that veiled his face and muddied his waters, that none might look through them and down into them.
   But to him came the more clever unbelievers, the crackers of nuts: these fished out from him the best hidden fish! But the bright ones, the brave, the transparent - these I hold the wisest of the silent: for their bottom is so deep that even the clearest water betrayeth it not!

Such was Weininger, transparent to the core, yet unexplainable by ordinary human experience - wholly alien to academics and everyday social beings.

"The genius is not the product of his age, is not to be explained by it, and we do him no honour if we attempt to account for him by it", says Weininger. To understand men of genius we must ourselves enter into the pure and lofty regions of reason itself, into logic, into the absolute, and into genius.

Having myself come to an understanding of Weininger in the context of reason, that is to say in the context of his actual thought (a practice which seems to be unheard of in modern scholarship), I do not regard Weininger to be either misogynistic or anti-Semitic. I can vouch for Weininger's judgment on women, which I believe is excellently true, however my inexperience with Jewish people means that I am unqualified to either affirm or dispute Weininger's judgement of Jewish culture.

It is unfortunate that academics have seen fit to ignore the thrust of Weininger's work, which does not concern science or politics, but is of a religious and philosophic nature. Weininger's great contribution to human thought lies in his insights concerning the feminine/masculine nature of mind in all people - the fact that all human behavior is a function of active and passive behaviour - and in the way he related this notion to genius and spiritual enlightenment.

As to the reason for his suicide when he was twenty-three years of age, I believe there were a number of contributing factors. Primarily, Weininger was a perfectionist, and suffered too much through his faults to be able to live with them. Had he persisted a little longer he would probably have developed the wisdom and strength to accept his own faults, at the same time as continuing his serious work to eliminate them. As it was, Weininger's mental and spiritual development was simply too rapid to allow him to put down the roots which could have sustained him. On the other hand, through the sheer quality of his work Weininger will always be around, and will continue to grow.

<- Back to Main Page

Kevin Solway: e-mail: