Otto Weininger


Biography of Otto Weininger

Otto Weininger (April 3, 1880 – October 4, 1903) was a Christian Austrian philosopher. In 1903, he published the book Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character), which gained popularity after his suicide at the age of 23. Today, Weininger is generally viewed as misogynistic and antisemitic in academic circles, but was held to be a great genius by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the writer August Strindberg (see discussion below).

Otto Weininger was born on April 3, 1880 in Vienna as a son of the Jewish goldsmith Leopold Weininger and his wife Adelheid. After attending primary school and graduating from secondary school in July 1898, Weininger registered at the University of Vienna in October of the same year. He studied philosophy and psychology but took courses in natural sciences and medicine as well. Weininger learned Greek, Latin, French and English very early, later also Spanish and Italian, and acquired passive knowledge of the languages of August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen (i.e., Swedish and Danish/Norwegian).

In the autumn of 1901 Weininger tried to find a publisher for his work Eros and the Psyche – which he submitted to his professors Jodl and Müllner as his thesis in 1902. He met Sigmund Freud, who, however, did not recommend the text to a publisher. His professors accepted the thesis and Weininger received his Ph.D. degree. Shortly thereafter he became proudly and enthusiastically a Protestant.

In 1902 Weininger went to Bayreuth where he witnessed a performance of Richard Wagner's Parsifal, which left him deeply impressed. Via Dresden and Copenhagen he made his way to Christiania (Oslo) where he for the first time saw Henrik Ibsen's liberation drama Peer Gynt on stage. Upon his return to Vienna Weininger suffered from fits of deep depression. The decision to take his own life gradually took shape in his mind; after a long discussion with his friend Artur Gerber, however, Weininger realized that "it is not yet time".

In June 1903, after months of concentrated work, his book Sex and Character, A Fundamental Investigation – an attempt "to place sex relations in a new and decisive light" – was published by the Vienna publishers Braumüller & Co. The book contained his thesis to which three vital chapters were added: (XII) The Nature of Woman and her Relation to the Universe, (XIII) Judaism, (XIV) Women and Humanity.

While the book was not received negatively, it did not create the expected stir. Weininger was attacked by Paul Julius Möbius, professor in Leipzig and author of the book On the Physiological Deficiency of Women, and was accused of plagiarizing. Deeply disappointed, and seemingly depressed, Weininger left for Italy.

Back in Vienna he spent his last five days with his parents. On October 3, he took a room in the house in Schwarzspanierstraße 15 where Ludwig van Beethoven died. He told the landlady that he was not to be disturbed before morning since he planned to work and then to go to bed late. This night he wrote two letters, one addressed to his father, the other one to his brother Richard, telling them that he was going to shoot himself.

On October 4, Weininger was found mortally wounded, having shot himself through the heart. He died in Wiener Allgemeines Krankenhaus at half past ten that morning. Otto Weininger was buried in the Matzleinsdorf Protestant Cemetery in Vienna.

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