Weininger, Otto (1880-1903)

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WEININGER, OTTO (1880-1903)

Otto Weininger, an Austrian and Jewish intellectual, was born on April 3, 1880, in Vienna, where he committed suicide on October 4, 1903. Adelheid, Otto's mother, whose health was frail, was a submissive wife to his father, Leopold, a renowned goldsmith and powerful personality. Of his six brothers and sisters, only four reached adulthood. A gifted student, Otto entered the University of Vienna in 1898 and took courses in all the various subjects he would later treat in his Sex and Character (1906). His professors included Friedrich Jodl, Ernst Mach, and Richard von Krafft-Ebing. He also frequently attended gatherings of the university philosophical society. In 1900 he traveled to Paris with Hermann Swoboda to attend a conference on psychology, where he sided with those in favor of an introspective approach to psychology as opposed to an experimental and biological approach.

Weininger began writing Sex and Character (origin-ally entitled Eros and Psyche ) in the autumn of 1900, and the book progressed through an exchange of ideas with Swoboda. In 1901, after having registered the copyright to his manuscript, he sought to publish it, and with this in mind he showed an outline to Freud, who was not favorably impressed. In 1902 Weininger submitted a revised version of the book to obtain his doctorate in philosophy. On the day he received his degree, he converted to Christianity. A third version of his bookwith the added chapters "Judaism," "Women and Mankind," and "Woman and Her Significance in the Universe"was published in June 1903 by the major publishing firm Braumüller.

Weininger suffered from severe mood swings of exaltation and depression. During the summer of 1902, he traveled in Northern Europe and, writing to his friend Arthur Gerber, asked, "Am I anything?" Weininger left for Italy in somber spirits. In Calabria on August 21, 1903, he drafted a new will and testament that replaced the one he had written the previous February 13. Returning home depressed, he spent five days at his parents' home. On October 3 he shot himself through the heart in a rented room in the house in which Beethoven, his favorite musician, had died.

Weininger was buried in a Protestant cemetery; his father wrote the text for his gravestone. Leopold Weininger admired his son's book and firmly defended Otto's memory after his death, though Leopold did confide information about Otto to a psychiatrist, who betrayed his trust.

In 1904, texts collected by Weininger's friend Moritz Rappaport were published asÜber die letzten Dinge (translated as On Last Things [2001]). There Weininger's suicide was explained as a logical conclusion to Sex and Character to insure its success both with a large general audience and among intellectuals. In 1906 Wilhelm Fliess's charge of double plagiarism, specifically, that Freud had passed on Fliess's original ideas about bisexuality to Weininger and Swoboda, also fueled the book's notoriety. In the case of "Little Hans" (Herbert Graf), Freud wrote, "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. 36n). In his book, Weininger bears witness to the confusion about sexuality and science that was characteristic of the time.

Erik Porge

See also: Christians and Jews: A Psychoanalytical Study ; Fliess, Wilhelm; Self-hatred; Swoboda, Hermann.


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: Racines de l'antiféminisme et de l'antisémitisme. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

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

Rodlauer, Hannelore. (1990). Otto Weininger: Eros und Psyche. Vienna: Verlag derÖsterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Sengoopta, Chandak. (2000). Otto Weininger: Sex, science, and self in imperial Vienna. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Swoboda, Hermann. (1911). Otto Weininger Tod. Vienna: F. Deuticke.

Weininger, Otto. (1906). Sex and character. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. (Original work published 1903)

. (2001). A translation of Weininger's "Über die letzten Dinge, 1904-1907," On last things. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press. (Original work published 1904)