Sex and Character

Blood of Fish by Gustav Klimt
Blood of Fish by Gustav Klimt

This is a spic and span summary of a tortured thinker who cast a long shadow in Vienna at the dawn of the 20th century. During those days of ironic prosperity in Austro-Hungary, Weininger identified the decay of modernity as the ‘triumph of pettiness over greatness.’

“….a time when art is content with daubs and seeks its inspiration in the sports of animals; the time of a superficial anarchy, with no feeling for Justice and the State; a time of communistic ethics, of the most foolish of historical views, the materialistic interpretation of history, a time of capitalism & of marxism; a time when history, life and science are no more than political economy and technical instruction; a time when genius is supposed to be a form of madness; a time with no great artists and no great philosophers; a time without originality and yet with the most foolish craving for originality.”


The goal of Sex & Character (S&C) was to establish a single principle that accounted for the difference between men and women. The principle is explained in two sections: biological/psychological and logical/philosophical. In the biological/psychological section, Weininger declared everyone to be biologically bisexual, i.e. containing male and female essences. The difference is in the proportions, which also accounts for homosexuals (either womanly men or masculine women). The first part ends on a polemic against the emancipation of women: “a woman’s demand for emancipation and her qualification for it are in direct proportion to the amount of maleness in her.” In other words, lesbians are at a higher level than most women. However, allowing the majority of women imitate them would be a grievous error.

The second part is a discussion about the essence of Man and Woman – not as biological class, but more similar to the Platonic Forms. Man and Woman do not exist except as the eternal archetype of Forms. Everybody is psychologically either a man or a woman. However, while a biological male may be a psychological female, the converse is impossible. All women are necessarily psychologically female.

The essence of Woman is her absorption in sex. In other words, she is sexuality itself. Men have sexual organs, but “the sexual organs possesses the woman.” The female is persistently and exhaustively occupied with sexual issues, while the male has a far more diverse range of issues to be preoccupied with.

Weininger unveils a theory of knowledge based on the ‘henid‘ concept. A henid is an aspect of psychical data before it becomes a fully fleshed idea. The thought process of women consists only in henids, which explains why they often assume that thinking and feeling are the same thing. Women require a man, specifically a psychological male, who by definition does not think in henids but in clear and articulated ideas to articulate her ideas, to interpret her henids. That requirement accounts for the tendency of women falling in love with men who are cleverer than themselves. The principle of difference is essentially as follows: “the male lives consciously while the female lives unconsciously.”

From such a theory of knowledge, Weininger derived the following ethical implications:

–since women cannot form clear and distinct judgments, due to henids, they cannot distinguish between truths and falsehoods. No standard of right and wrong exists. Therefore women are naturally, as well as necessarily, amoral. They are not even at the level of the moral sphere. If they lack the moral dimension, then they also lack the dimension of a soul. If there is no soul, then they lack the attribute of free will. No ego, no individual essence, and no character.

Furthermore, in the psychology section, Weininger posited two Platonic variants of Woman: the Mother and the Prostitute. All women are combinations of both variations, but always predominantly one or the other. However, since women are amoral creatures, there is no moral distinction between the two for them. The Mother’s love for her child is equally indiscriminate as the prostitute’s desire to hump every Tom, Dick, and Harry she sees. Both share the characteristic of the feminine: the “instinct for match-making,” the desire to see man and woman united.

The only difference between the two archetypes is the form of their obsession with sex: the Mother is obsessed with the consequence of sex, whereas the Prostitute is obsessed with the act of sex itself.

Weininger continued the speculative psychology by venting poisoned bile about the Jews, claiming that the Platonic essence of the Jew is “saturated with femininity.” Like the Woman, the Jew lacks individuality, a sense of good and evil, and therefore is soulless. Oddly enough, some Christians may be flattered to learn that Weininger places Jesus as the paradigm case in opposition to the Jew as the “highest expression of the highest faith,” for he “conquered in himself Judaism, the greatest negation, and created the strongest affirmation and the most direct opposition of Judaism – Christianity.”

Criticism: Weininger dealt with essences, which themselves are problematic little entities that lack empirical content or definition. Such chimeras of philosophy deserve to be exorcised for all time.

He is also lacked an account for the historical subject, the social structure that enables roles for men and women to adopt, and as well as unbiased evidential reasoning.

In the end, the thesis the book Sex & Character advocates is little more than self-serving for it justified Otto’s misogynism and antisemitism. The story of Otto Weininger is best characterized as “what could have been” for he blew his brains out at a young age of 23. A life intentionally cut short, Weininger’s claim to fame was how he ended his life for both logical and ethical obligation to the tragic conclusion of his singular magnum opus, Sex & Character. For he was both a Jew and a homosexual, and possibly a member of the psychologically female.

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...a philosophisticator who utters heresies, thinks theothanatologically and draws like Kirby on steroids.