Sex and Character

views updated


Otto Weininger began to draft Sex and Character in 1900, at the time when Hermann Swoboda informed him of Freud's interpretation of bisexuality, and the book was elaborated concurrently with an exchange of ideas between the two friends. In 1901, having registered his manuscript, then called Eros and Psyche, in order to preserve his intellectual property rights, he wished to have it published and to this end this he met with Freud who took an unfavorable view of it. In 1902 Weininger successfully presented his reworked manuscript for his doctoral thesis in philosophy. He converted to Protestantism and then presented a third version of the book, which was characterized by the addition of chapters on Jews and women and the fact that he extended the metaphysical system.

First published in 1903 by a major publisher, Braumüller, the book became a bestseller after its author's suicide. It ran to twenty-eight editions between 1903 and 1947 and was translated into ten languages. Many articles in The Torch (Die Fackel ) contributed to the success of the book, as did accusations of plagiarism, by Paul J. Moebius in 1904 and most of all by Otto Fliess in 1906. Otto Rank was convinced by the work, each of its arguments reflecting his personal experience: "They were even expressed in my own terms," he said. In a footnote to Herbert Graf's ("Little Hans") analysis, Freud wrote that "Being a neurotic, Weininger was completely under the sway of his infantile complexes; and from that standpoint what is common to Jews and women is their relation to the castration complex" (1909b, p. 36).

Although consisting of multiple philosophical digressions, Weininger's book does in fact revolve around a central question that brings it closer to psychoanalytic research, the impossibility of establishing a definite group relation between the sexes. For Weininger there were two ideal types, M and F, which are analogous to Platonic types. Real individuals were intermediary bisexual states, defined by their proportions of M and F. There was no break in nature between masculine and feminine but a bisexual structure in varied proportions which, because of psycho-physiological parallelism, involved both the microscopic body and the mind. This Male/Female mosaic explains sexual attraction, which seeks to achieve complementarity: a man with the equation 3/4M+1/4F seeks a woman with the equation 3/4F+1/4M. It thus transpires that the ideal relation would be between a homosexual man and a homosexual woman. However, men and women who are attracted to each other are corporally individuated; they are not types. Weininger realized that: "In spite of the infinite gradation of the intermediary forms, the human being is definitively either man or woman," but diverges from the point when he postulates a substance that he used as the basis of his characterology. The permanent confusion between the outline of substantialized types and empirical experience gives his statements about women a shocking character"The absolute female has no ego" (p. 186). The same holds true for his comments on Jews, whom he compares to women, speaking of Judaism as a "Platonic idea" (p. 311). For this reason he sometimes has to explain that he does not wish to "lend the faintest support to any practical or theoretical persecution of Jews" (p. 311). Jewish himself, Weininger's thesis is a testament to what he calls "self hatred."

Erik Porge

See also: Bisexuality; Fliess, Wilhelm; Self-Hatred; Swoboda, Hermann; Weininger, Otto.

Source Citation

Weininger Otto. (1908). Geschlecht und Charakter. London: Heinemann. (Original work published 1903)


Freud, Sigmund. (1909b). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. SE, 10: 1-149.

Le Rider, Jacques. (1982). Le cas Otto Weininger. Paris: P.U.F.

. (1990). Modernité viennoise et crises de l 'identité. Paris: P.U.F.

Porte, Erik. (1994). Vol d 'idées?. Paris: Denoël.

Rodlauer, Hannelore. (1990). Otto Weiningers Eros und Psyche. Vienna:Österreich Akademie der Wissenschaften.