Sex and Character

Otto Weininger's Sex and Character explores the idea that all living things possess both masculine and feminine qualities and that these qualities are exclusively moral or amoral. For instance, the book states that “masculine elements” are moral, right, productive, and positive, while “feminine elements” are noted as amoral, wrong, negative, and unproductive. In fact, the book even states that Judaism is a “feminine religion”and therefore an amoral religion. On the other hand, it states that Christianity is a “masculine religion” and therefore moral. Thus, since women are feminine, they are regarded as inferior, soulless creatures who are only interested in having sex and bearing children. The book also states that males are responsible for “creating genius” in the world and that they should not let themselves get too distracted by dating and philandering with “cunning and deceitful women”.

The Author: Otto Weininger

At the time of the Sex and Character's publishing, it was largely ignored by the public. It was not until after Weininger’s death that people started discussing the ideas in the book. Otto Weininger was an Austrian philosopher born in April of 1880 in Vienna. His father, Leopold, was a Jewish goldsmith, and his mother was named Adelheid. Not much is known about his childhood.

In October, 1898, Weininger enrolled in the University of Vienna. He took a number of subjects including psychology, philosophy, natural sciences, and medicine. While he was studying in the university, he went to great lengths to study languages such as French, English, Latin, Greek, Spanish, and even Italian. He graduated with a Ph.D in 1901.

The next year, Weininger spent his time watching plays and fighting off frequent bouts of depression. Then, in 1903, things did not go well for Weininger. Sex and Character was published that year, and it did not create the stir that he had hoped it would. In fact, it was received rather lukewarmly; there were no negative reviews, but there were no glowing ones either. He was already suffering from bouts of depression, and things got worse when a professor by the name of Paul Julius Moebius accused him of plagiarizing Moebius’ book, On the Physiological Deficiency of Women.

Although Weininger was sure that he did not plagiarize, the entire situation affected him deeply. He headed to Vienna, deeply plagued by disappointment and severe self-doubt, and reunited with his parents. Weininger spent five days with them, and on the 3rd of October, he rented a room in the house where Ludwig van Beethoven had died. He wrote two letters to his family, and asked not to be disturbed. The following day, he was found mortally wounded. He had shot himself in the heart and died at the age of 23 and was pronounced dead at 10:30 am that morning. His parents buried him in Vienna.

For Further Reading

The Historical Impact

After Weininger’s death, Sex and Character became known as an important piece of philosophical work. It opened the doors for the development of many revolutionary ideas in philosophy as well as literature. The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who is considered to be one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, regarded the author of Sex and Character as one of the major influences in his career. James Joyce drew on the ideas of the book when he wrote Ulysses. Even Sigmund Freud held a discussion on the book.

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