The Greatness of Otto Weininger

Otto Weininger (who was jewish) said silly things about women and about jews, in their usual demeanour to concentrate on the wrong things first that is how he is, at large, remembered by the human race – but that is not what is important. What is important is that Otto Weininger was the greatest philosopher of all time. Otto Weininger gave the answer to what is the meaning of life. The meaning of life is to become a good person. A person becomes good when she embraces reason and moral, when she strives for a clear, unaffected understanding as well as for empathy, if not love, for the object. „Logic and ethics … are, all in all, one and the same: duty against oneself. Not only virtue but also understanding, not only sanctity but also wisdom are the duty of man, only both combined establish integrity and perfection.“ The means to achieve perfection are being interested. Being interested is the good principle. When I am interested in the object, or the fellow human, I show my respect. When I try to understand him (which does not mean that I excuse him) I pay my highest tribute to him. The outstanding human being is therefore the most universal and the most interested human being. She, who lives with the world as a whole in the most intimate relationship, who strives to understand it most deeply, and with the highest passion most objectively, will also act most virtuously (something also Nietzsche said once). Relying on Kant, Otto Weininger framed an Individualethik about man who has to establish virtue and understanding by himself, in a universe that is „deeply silent“, but according to the good principle. Like Kant, Otto Weininger felt profoundly shaken by that insight and the distinguished person will understand this insight, respectively the grasp on this insight, as something sublime, like „the bestarred nightsky“. Taking away the obnoxious elements, „Sex and Character“ is one of the greatest and deepest books ever written, by an intellect of such an astonishing supremacy, and the posthumously published essays are further elaborations and illuminations. The title of the second book is „About the Last Things“, rarely a title is so accurate, since the basic thought contains the alpha and the omega of it all. Otto Weininger is the redeemer of the post-religious age. And he may be a primary thinker for an age of post-conventionalist moral systems.

While writing on „Sex and Character“ Otto Weininger, who was only at the beginning of his twenties then, became ever more depressed. He made statements, ever ominous, that the book would contain an important truth – which, however, „will bring death: either to the book, or to his author“. After it was published it was largely ignored. Otto Weininger however became ever more restless and obsessed by the thought that he was „a criminal“. He became philosophically interested in the problem of „the criminal“ as a type of behaviour and of a human being opposed to virtuousness (which is, at least, a more accurate way to model this than to take „the woman“ and „the jew“ as opposites to the (logical and ethical) genius). Along with the usual intensity of the inner life and the overexcitabilities which every once in a while torment the genius person Otto Weininger, during his deep mediation about ethics, became tormented with the (rational) thought that he would most likely not be able to live up to his own philosophical ideals and became sucked in the conception that he would be a „criminal“ at all. It is not known why Otto Weininger became obsessed with this thought. He was a very virtuous person. Maybe he became ashamed by the inherent misanthropy of his antisemitism and his misogyny (which were, however, much less prominent in „About the Last Things“), a woman however, who dated him once, later reported about her impression about him in the wording that she had „met Jesus Christ“ (therefore also a person obsessed by her own (actual or virtual) „sins“). Further complications might have added to the confusion. Someone who knew both Weininger and Franz Kafka said about them: „They were both geniuses. And mad. Genius and mad. They both already crossed out a sentence even before writing it down.“ That is not madness but a mind running at ultra-fast speed and an emanation of the inner life of an ultracomplex person. Note however: such a condition can also be pathological or turn pathological. Otto Weininger was a mind so supreme that he seemed to be above the level of even the great existential philosophers who, themselves, were somehow the greatest, most comphrehensive minds in history. Yet those very great philosophers – Socrates, Plato, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, also Schopenhauer (and, if they had lived longer, Pascal and probably Georg Büchner) – were actually meta-philosophers (as well as Fariduddin Attar, the greatest of all existential philosophical poets, was a meta-sufi). Having written „Sex and Character“ at the first shot, Otto Weininger seemed to reside even above them, i.e. above the level of a meta-philosopher – but what would that be? Ultra-intelligent people run in danger of climbing on the very top of a discipline in a short time and then don´t know what do to further, or have difficulties to interpret what they are doing since there is no actual comparison possible: Otto Weininger at least developed a (temporary) identity crisis and considered himself as „no philosopher, not at all. But what would I be instead? Probably nothing!“ Also Otto Weininger reached for divineness. He expressed that the genius person will become a god and in his mediatations about ethics he reached into religion. But since Otto Weininger was a rational person with no religious sentiments he probably became plagued by that inconsistency. His synthetic intelligence reached for the heavens but his analytical intelligence further dissolved everything and probably intensified his perception of „chaos“ (which he became afraid of and attributed to the „criminal“). Another important element, probably the most important of all, is that Otto Weininger simply seemed too young and therefore emotionally immature to adequately handle the weight of his philosophical meditations (therefore also his misogyny and antisemitism who seemed to be the epiphany of an immature person). Again, it is not known what tormented Otto Weininger so much that he felt driven into the final consequence. Probably also finding out, respectively feeling confirmed, that his ethics is not acutally applicable to man. Being passionately objectively interested in the world, anti-egoic and empathetic, in an intimate relation to the totality of the world, is the domain of the genius, and beyond the reach of ordinary man. And possibly also out of reach of the genius. The important message of the „system“ of Otto Weininger is the encouragement of man to become genius, that genius is actually an imperative to reach for itself, yet at the same time he was aware that to ultimately successfully follow this imperative will remain the solitary business of few. In an uncanny state of mind, both being highly mentally disturbed as well as being highly mentally present and logical, he went to the death house of Beethoven in the Schwarzspanierstraße in Vienna and shot himself to death, at age 23, on Oct. 4 1903. Immediately thereafter his book became a bestseller and a longseller, altough his fame mostly stemmed out from being seen as an eccentric figure respectively an idol for anti-feminists and antisemites. Good people also saw the good in him and brillant people saw his brillance, but this perception was isolated and did not become systematic or encouraged scholarship. After World War 2 his remembrance sunk into oblivion respectively degenerated into being remembered as an outrageous crank. The importance of his books as a reflection on ethics was obviously never really fully grasped. Freud, who knew Weininger personally a bit, called „Sex and Character“ „ein merkwürdiges Buch“.

This was the life and death of Otto Weininger (1880-1903), probably the most, or at least one of the most pronouced idiosyncracies in the eternal recurrence of man who does not understand very much, who is not interested very much, and who does not care very much (and this is probably the way it should be (to secure his eternal return)).


„The ego of the genius accordingly is simply itself universal comprehension, the centre of infinite space; the great man contains the whole universe within himself; genius is the living microcosm. He is not an intricate mosaic, a chemical combination of an infinite number of elements; the argument in chap. iv. as to his relation to other men and things must not be taken in that sense; he is everything. In him and through him all psychical manifestations cohere and are real experiences, not an elaborate piece-work, a whole put together from parts in the fashion of science. For the genius the ego is the all, lives as the all; the genius sees nature and all existences as whole; the relations of things flash on him intuitively; he has not to build bridges of stones between them.“ – O.W.

„The reason why madness overtakes so many men of genius – fools believe it comes from the influence of Venus, or the spinal degeneration of neurasthenics – is that for many the burden becomes too heavy, the task of bearing the whole world on the shoulders, like Atlas, intolerable for the smaller, but never for the really mighty minds. But the higher a man mounts, the greater may be his fall; all genius is a conquering of chaos, mystery, and darkness, and if it degenerates and goes to pieces, the ruin is greater in proportion to the success. The genius which runs to madness is no longer genius; it has chosen happiness instead of morality. All madness is the outcome of the insupportability of suffering attached to all consciousness.“ – O.W.


When I see something beautiful and intelligent (or genius) I usually get very euphoric and my heart melts. Such has also been the case when I got confrontend with Otto Weininger, and I have to admit that I have only scanned the more outrageous parts of „Sex and Character“ (not least because they rely on an antique and outdated natural science). However, since the more outrageous thing is that Otto Weininger today is more or less only remembered as a crank, antifeminist and antisemite, and concerning his much more important messages pratically forgotten, I considered it rightful to concentrate on the latter. However, concerning his melodramatic and symbolic suicide some other thoughts have come to my mind in the meantime. I considered his suicide (somehow) as a consequence of his genius and his strive as an ethical genius that is bound to find out that his message cannot actually be realised, or as a case of an absolute genius that is bound to live in a relative world and decides that it´s not worth it. You can construct the hypothetical case of an absolute genius that will, due to his perfection that also means impairedness in relation to the world, soon end up putting a bullett in the fucking head as he cannot stand such a paradox. And last not least – respectively first and foremost – suicidal states have been quite prominent in myself, especially when writing the Book of Stange and Unproductive Thinking and the internal struggles for the realisation of genius and of ethics – including the insight into its (quasi-) paradoxical limitations had been quite the same for me as they had been for Otto. Otto says, the genius permanently experiences impressions (as his perception is much more intense and empathetic) and due to the so-called overexcitabilities common for gifted people, depressive and suicidal thoughts can come in with a frightening intensity, also involving heavy bodily pain. When I wrote the Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking, i.e. a completely outlandish thing that operates at the absolute frontiers and exosphere regions of human thought and imagination, I was thinking as if my mind had started digesting itself (as, somehow, it had digested virtually everything before), and I actually often thought that suicide or some kind of self-implosion or annihilation could be imminent. Those were the days, my friend.

However, between depression, artistic/spiritual struggle and entertaining suicidal thoughts and actually carrying out suicide there is a vast difference (and, as I realised later, although my depressive hallucinations were caused by intellectual/creative/spiritual struggle, poverty, isolation, the perspective that it does not pay off, etc. they had been seriously aggravated by alcohol abuse at that time)! In retrospect I can tell you that, yes, it was a hard time, and the inner struggles alongside strange and unproductive thinking are damn real, they are not some hypochondric shit or luxury problems. Working in isolation with the possibility to reach out denied is resemblant to neurosis and „Dichterwahnsinn“. And so the story of Otto Weininger was told, not least by the people who knew him and from whom I gathered my information, as a „neurotic“ story. Yet remember, he killed himself because he began to consider himself a „criminal“ (about to commit a crime, and before doing so he would rather kill himself (in order to protect others from harm (or to protect his own reputation?) – „The virtuous man chooses death/self-annihilation rather than degenerating into evil.“)). One might think, and this is what I somehow have done in the assessment above, that this self-perception as a „criminal“ was a kind of metaphorical condensation of his inner struggles turning delusional. Yet, thinking over it again, I guess it is more appropriate to take it literally, i.e. that Otto Weininger actually became persuaded by the idea that he was about to become a criminal, not for neurotic reasons but for psychotic reasons. Irrespective of his inner struggles, he obviously was about to become mentally ill, insane – and already his „system“ established in „Sex and Character“ has features of a „Wahnsystem“. Consider that mentally ill people do not necessarily appear as frenzy lunatics that need to be put in a straitjacket and that talk incoherent shit all the time; in many cases they might appear as normally functioning in many domains of everyday or intellectual life until „the thing“ happens. Mental illness is tricky and might grow gradually, usually in a person known for being a bit „eccentric“; as some eccentricities grow, it might be noted but not cause worry among his loved ones, and when it finally turns out that these features aren´t harmless but pathological it is usually too late. Maybe also Weininger was not psychotically delusional about his „criminality“, maybe due to his insanity he actually felt criminal impulses he felt would overpower him if he did not stop himself. Consider infamous mass shooter Charles Whitman who infamousely went on a killing spree in 1966. He had been a normal person before but had felt growing murderous impulses which had not been taken very seriously by his environment when he tried to communicate them – until he finally leashed out. After his death, a tumor was found in his brain, obviously confirming his story that he experienced a gradual and sinister transformation of his personality. One is prone to romaticise the suicides of artists like van Gogh, Kurt Cobain or Marilyn Monroe as the tragic consequence of the tortured genius and, like Weininger, they became cultural icons and symbolic personalities, in fact however, they killed themselves not because of the struggle of genius but because they had been mentally ill, with a history of mental illness running in their families. They, likely, were tragically doomed creatures quite irrespective of life circumstances.

That does not invalidate the genius and what he says, or imply the „genius and madness“ duality. Quasi-neurotic struggles of such individuals and the internal struggles of Otto Weininger are for real, and Otto´s quest for ethical perfection was not insane but hypersane. In that respect, he was like a man actually should be. But this does not rule out that such a person can also be/come mentally ill, which then should not be mixed with genius and creativity, but comes irrespective of it. At any rate, there is too little biographical information about Otto Weininger and any diagnosis about him can just be speculative. His suicide remains mysterious, but that suicides are incomprehensible and leave loved ones puzzled and shattered is not an uncommon thing anyway.