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Otto Weininger

WEININGER, OTTO (1880–1903), Austrian psychologist and philosopher. Weininger was born in Vienna. From 1898 he studied philosophy, biology, psychology, physics, and mathematics at the University of Vienna. He rejected his original positivistic view, and, influenced by, among others, Plato, Kant, St. Augustine, Neoplatonism, and Wagner, he converted to Protestantism the day he received his Ph.D. in 1902. He then wrote his major work, Geschlecht und Charakter (1903; Sex and Character, 1906), a philosophical justification of male superiority expressing misogynistic and antisemitic views. After its publication, he sank into a deep depression, culminating in his suicide, at the age of 23, in the same house in which Beethoven had died. Shortly after his death, his unpublished essays and aphorisms appeared under the title Ueber die letzten Dinge (19041) and in a second edition with a biographical introduction by Moriz Rappaport (19072). Much later, two other works were published: Otto Weininger, Die Liebe und das Weib (1917), and Taschenbuch und Briefe an einen Freund, ed. by A. Gerber (1919). In 1990 Weininger's collected works and letters appeared under the title Eros und Psyche (1990), ed. by H. Rodlauer. Weininger's Geschlecht und Charakter became well-known after his death; following Max Nordau's discussion of it in the Vossische Zeitung, it had almost 30 editions in German (Hebrew ed. 1953). Weininger's theory is based on a fundamental relationship between sex and character. Every human being is a combination of male and female elements. He saw Man as the positive, productive, logical, conceptual, ethical, spiritual force capable of genius, while Woman is the negative one, incapable of any of these virtues. Woman is either interested purely in sexual pleasure (the Prostitute) or in procreation (the Mother). As a result, the ideal Woman depends on Man, on the Phallus, and her emancipation, as well as the spiritual progress of Man, depends upon ending coitus.

In his discussion of Judaism, Weininger saw the characteristics of the Jew as even worse than those of Woman. The Jew is a force which exists within people, not just in individual Jews (it is found also in non-Jews). The disadvantage of the Jew compared to Woman is that the latter at least believes in the Male while the Jew believes in nothing. Hence the Jew gravitates towards Communism, anarchism, materialism, empiricism, and atheism. Zionism, Weininger claimed, could only come about after the rejection of Judaism, since Jews could not grasp the idea of a state. The Jewish religion he saw as belief in nothing, in contrast to the positive faith he found in Christianity. Weininger's views combined elements of romanticism, Wagnerianism, Nietzscheanism, modern psychology, and biology, with many original insights. His opinions and arguments were taken over by Nazi thinkers as justification for their views. After the war the attitude towards Weininger's work and figure shifted from an ideological use of his ideas towards a search for an understanding of his thoughts and behavior within the framework of the humanities and social sciences. In 1982 the Israeli playwright Y. Sobol wrote for the stage Nefesh Yehudi: ha-Layla ha-Aḥaron shel Otto Weininger (Weiningers Nacht, 1986, 19882).


J. Sachs, The Jewish Genius (1939), 237–43; S. Liptzin, Germany's Stepchildren (1944), 184–90; S. Freud, Origins of Psychoanalysis: Letters to Wilhelm Fliess (1954), index (incl. bibl.); D. Abrahamsen, The Mind and Death of a Genius (1946), incl. bibl.; H. Kohn, in: YLBI, 6 (1961), 152–69. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Le Rider and N. Leser (eds.), Otto Weininger (1984); J. Le Rider, Der Fall Otto Weininger (1985); A. Janik, in: I. Oxaal et al. (eds.), Jews, Antisemitism and Culture in Vienna, 75–88; S. Beinssen-Hesse, in: J. Milfull (ed.), Why Germany? (1993), 9–28; H. Schroeder, in: C. Kohn-Ley, I. Korotin (eds.), Der Feministische "Suendenfall"? (1994), 60–83; N.A. Harrowitz and B. Hyams (eds.), Jews & Gender (1995); R. Robertson, in: B. Cheyette and L. Marcus (eds.), Modernity, Culture and ' the Jew' (1998), 23–39; R.S. Wistrich, in: Der Juedische Echo, 48 (1999), 93–113; C. Sengoopta, Otto Weininger (2000).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.