(O.  Weininger:  Sex and Character)

(1909 – #157(4))

   The book of O. Weininger, “Sex and Character”, has come out in a fine translation and in a fine edition.2 This book has already brought attention to itself, and it is deserving of attention. It would not be so fine a thing, however, were Weininger to come into a faddish vogue, if there were to obtain the wide circulation of certain of his ideas, which can prove fresh and interesting, ideas, having justification in the passionate subjectivity of his rich individuality, but harmful and trite for mass consumption. And thus one might wish, that Weininger be properly appreciated, while thus one might also wish, that Weiningerism not become a stylish fad. In the youthful book of Weininger there is a sweep of genius, and from this sombre book wafts an air of freshness. This is a very stimulating and inspiring book.

Weininger — is a son of the German spiritual culture, and in him is felt the spirit of Kant, of Schopenhauer, Schelling, R. Wagner, the spirit of German idealism and romanticism. But in him there is a profound difference from contemporary German culture and philosophy. The book of Weininger, the book of a 22 year old youth, — is perhaps the most vivid manifestation of contemporary German culture; after Nietzsche there was nothing already in this fleeting culture so remarkable. In this book, the spirit of German idealism and romanticism attain to a religious torment. One merely small matter separates Weininger from the religious acceptance of Christianity, and it is this, that he cannot transgress this quirk, cannot undo it. Weininger arrives not at a religious world, but he is pervaded by a reverent, almost religious love for truth and right and he inspires others with a love for perfection. In this, he is akin to such writers as Fichte, Carlyle, L. Tolstoy; he comes across graciously even in those instances, when he expresses evidently false ideas. What enchants in the book of Weininger is not his theoretical ideas, too often exaggerated and inaccurate, but rather an elusive breath of air throughout all this book.

In the book swells the breath of an eternal idealism, a profound and passionate hostility towards positivism, towards the cult of numeric quantities and the transitory, but with a love for qualities and eternity. The most successful aspect would be the specific views of Weininger on womankind, on the bisexuality of the human being, etc. In these views there is much of interest, but I should want to turn attention to altogether different sides of the book. In his teachings about genius, Weininger is most of all ascendant over the spirit of our times, most of all by his own genius. In romanticism there was an eternal side, and this is also developed by Weininger, which leads the spirit of romanticism through the cleansing fire of philosophic criticism. There is the sense likewise of an affinity of Weininger with Carlyle, with his cult of heroes. Our era is in need of the rebirth of the very idea of genius. Almost no one already during our times still connects his dreams about a rebirth of mankind in connection with genius, all tend to connect the dream about a new life with the power of numeric quantities, with mechanical forces. “Universal apperception, all-general judgement, complete extra-temporality” — here is what Weininger sees as the essence of genius. “It is proper then to call a man a genius, when he lives in a conscious connection with the worldly whole. Genius is but also the Divine within man”. “The genius — this is that man, who attains to the consciousness of his own particular I”. But in accord with the profound thought of Weininger, “the utmost individualism is the utmost universalism”. In genius also is revealed in full the idea of man. He declares to us in eternal moments, that such a man: ” is an object, the subject of which serves all the world”. Genius, in accord with the original teaching of Weininger, is present not only in those people, whom we are accustomed to call geniuses. “Genius is an idea, towards which one approaches closer while another remains afar from it, an idea, to which one approaches quickly, while another approaches it, perhaps, only towards the end of his life”. Weininger is an avid adherent of the Platonic teaching about ideas, and towards everything he adopts the Platonic method; for him both the masculine, and the feminine, and genius — are ideas, with which the empirical activity corresponds to a greater or lesser degree. The idea of genius — is a basic idea for Weininger; in it he sees salvation, in it — universality, the fullness of being, and also together with this the self -consciousness of the “I”, the affirmation of the person. Genius is the consciousness of values, a positive relationship to things, and moreover with this, genius is a liberation from the power of time — extra-temporality. Genius for Weininger is distinct from talent, since a basic sign of genius is an universal proclivity, which with talent there cannot be. Genius can obtain with people of simple gifts, and even in people untalented in other moments of life: in the moments of great suffering or ecstasy there can appear genius, the flash of light, the universal acceptance of things. Remarkable likewise is the teaching of Weininger about memory, with which he connects the consciousness of the I, the consciousness of value, genius and extra-temporality. “The ideal of genius would be manifest by suchlike a being, for whom as much as he may have “perception”, just as much as has “apperception””. With memory is connected also the need for immortality. Memory is a victory over time, it is the affirmation of one’s I against the force of time. In the chapter about logic and ethics Weininger connects ethical and logical norms with memory. He uniquely interprets the normative criticism and makes broad inferences from this teaching.

But most of all it must be mentioned, that Weininger is a remarkable psychologist, a person of clear insights into emotional elements. He quite uniquely comprehends the tasks of psychology, and his merits involving psychology are still to be recognised. Weininger relates with a caustic and sharp-witted spurning of the “soulless psychology”; he wants to return to psychology its lost soul; in this he differs not only from the positivists, but also from the greater part of the Neo-Kantians. Weininger dreams about a new science — characterology or theoretical biography, which should replace the old, the soulless and abstract psychology. With him there is the idea of a new concrete psychology, which would study what not at all concerned the old pyschology, e.g. the psychological problems of “murder, friendship, solitude”. Weininger would tend also to study the psychologically concrete problems of — masculinity, femininity, genius, giftedness, maternalism, eroticism, etc. Many of the psychological observations and generalisations of Weininger are striking in the power of their intuition, without which it is impossible to be a genuine psychologist. Psychology will only then emerge out upon a new and fruitful path, when it is not limited to the investigation of sensations and the elementary and most general emotional phenomena of cognition, of will and feelings, but makes rather the object of its investigation such complex and concrete phenomena, as e.g. idolatry, suffering, childishness, pride, anguish, asceticism, etc. The concrete and complex, the genuinely “psychological” phenomena of modern psychology are not only not being investigated, but they also cannot be investigated given the character of its method. Weininger here does something very exciting, he opens up a new path. Prior to Weininger no one had undertaken such a psychological investigation of masculinity (M) and femininity (F). What is striking with Weininger in this area is a mixture of intuitions almost of genius, of profound insights into the character of “woman” together with very inaccurate, unjust and but basic generalities. In the attitude of Weininger towards F there is something tortuous and enigmatic. The passion, with which Weininger denies a depth of soul in F, denies every relationship of F to logic, to ethics, to genius, to consciousness of the “I”, to truth and right, — conceals within him something unhealthy, some sort of experiential fear. True, Weininger speaks not about woman, but about the F, as a Platonic Idea, which can be found also with men, just as the M principle can also be found with women. But the constructs of Weininger are logically arbitrary and unsustainable, since he ascribes to the M everything positively of value and makes man the bearer of the M, and to the F he ascribes everything negative, bereft of value, and makes woman the bearer of the F. The arbitrary, subjective and unjust aspects of the basic outlook of Weininger has not hindered him from saying a bitter truth about women.  His teaching about the genida, as a characteristic trait in the makeup of woman. True also is this, that it is a male only that is explaining the feminine genida. Very profound likewise is the teaching about the opposition between sexuality and the erotic. Weininger connects with the erotic the sense of opposition between the person and the race and the sense of redemption and salvation. The F is but the projection into the external world of the sin of the M, and love is a thirst for redemption from the sin. The male never loves the female, and the female is unworthy of love, — he but moistens in woman the “soul”, moistens his own idea of perfection, his own value. Such an idea is purely erotic. The sexual attitude towards woman is however a source of sin and slavery. Weinger arrives also at the preaching of an extreme asceticism, in which he sees a liberation from the F, i.e. from sin and evil. In him is sensed a breath of the Platonic Eros, but poisoned by modernity. In Weininger there is a sense of terror and fright in facing the secret of sex.

In Weininger there is likewise an intense, a passionate sense of the person, the sense of the “I”, and a no less passionate, indignant hostility towards the racial aspect. Everything impersonal, elemental, bestial, familial is hateful to him. In this Weininger stands at the very summit of consciousness, and his book with genius reflects on that crisis of the familial element, which is in so impaired a state for modern mankind. The self-consciousness of the person, the consciousness of the higher nature of man rises up against the slavery of the impersonal racial-familial element. Weininger therefore hates the F, since that he sees in this element a principle, hostile to the person, hostile to reason and conscience, binding one to the race, to racial reproduction, to the elemental such as is hostile to immortality. The sense of person and the thirst for immortality lead Weininger to a denial of the maternal. He dethrones maternalism from its pedestal, since he sees a profound opposition between the creativity of new generations and the creativity of spiritual values. For him maternalism is a subconscious, animal-like instinct and therefore not exaltive for women. Here Weininger is close to Plato and to eroticism, as begetting beauty. Vl. Solov’ev likewise followed the path of Plato, but he knew a Christian egress. Weininger wages an incessant struggle against the elemental and the unconscious in the name of reason and of consciousness. In this, he goes against the spirit of the times, the spirit of a decadent consciousness, immersed in the unconscious elements and opposed to all norms. He struggles likewise against the decadent ethics, with its denial of the absolute character of morality, against the modern lack of principle and amoralism. Weininger by his criticism provides a service for a spiritual rebirth, the orienting of man towards eternal values and towards immortality.

Weininger stands upon the soil of a Kantian philosophy; but he does not emerge as the usual type of Neo-Kantian, — which is to say a positivist: he understands what is the most important thing in Kant — his teaching about the duality of human nature, his moral philosophy. Weininger has deep respect for philosophy, in this he is a typical German. He is not only a idealist, but also a spiritualist, he combines the criticism of Kant with the spiritualistic monadology of Leibnitz. But the spiritualism of Weininger is dualistic, he abandons the dichotomy of spirit and flesh, and he is hostile to flesh. If Weininger were to have come to the Christian consciousness through modern philosophy, he would then have surmounted this dualism, and his spiritualism would become monistic, not denying the flesh, but spiritising rather the flesh. In Weininger is evident the deadliness and impotence of an irreligious romantic idealism.

Amidst all the psychological shrewdness of Weininger, amidst his deep understanding of evil in womankind, there is still no true understanding of “the essence of womankind and its meaning in the universe”. Weininger puts all his hopes upon an ultimate victory of the masculine over the feminine, which should be a victory of spirit over the flesh, of the world eternal over the world corruptible. And Christianity does see in womankind an evil principle, it teaches, that the female nature is particularly susceptible to evil, but Christianity also teaches, that the female nature in turn is also susceptible to the greatest good, becoming fruitful by the Spirit of God and having given birth in the flesh to the Son of God. Only the faith in Christ could save Weininger from his gloomy views on womankind. He would see, that besides prostitutes and mothers there are also the myrh-bearing women.3 The teaching of Weininger about the erotic includes within it a partial truth, but he does not arrive at the ides of an erotic union of the make and female in eternal being. The positive meaning of being — is in the heavenly Eros, just as this is revealed to the religious consciousness at its summits. The Eros of Weininger however is illusory, in it there is not attained real being. The cult of the Madonna for him — is a delusion, and the dream of love — an illusion. Man remains alone by himself, and not possible for him towards another and others. Weininger calls for an heroic effort of self-salvation, of liberation by one’s own powers from the flesh, from this world, from womankind. But the help is nowhere to be awaited, there obtains no grace. In this idea of self-salvation there is both pride and doubt. Weininger did away with himself, and in the book there are presentiments of this terrible end. He loved Christ and Christianity, but Christ for him was only but a religious genius, only the great founder of a religion. He sees in Judaism that selfsame evil power, which also is in womankind, and he sees the exploit of Christ in the victory over Judaism.4 And he awaits a new religious genius, who again will conquer the “Judaism”, infecting all our culture. “Against the new Judaism will burst forth to light a new Christianity. Mankind thirsts for the founder of a new religion, and the battle will come nigh to a decisive end, just as in the first years of our era. Mankind anew will have to choose between Judaism and Christianity, between business and culture, between the feminine and the masculine, between the race and the person, between non-value and value, between earth and an higher life, — between Nothingness and God”. If Weininger had sensed, that Christ were not so much the founder of a religion as is rather the religion, he would less gloomily have faced his own fate in the world. But he did sense, that the world is moving towards a new religious life, and that the times ensue for a decisive struggle. Weininger — is one of the few people of the modern culture, who loudly witnesses to the religious searchings and torments in anticipation of a religious rebirth.

Nikolai Berdyaev


©  2002  by translator Fr. S Janos

(1909 – 157(4) – en)

PO POVODU ODNOI ZAMECHATEL’NOI KNIGI (O. Weininger: Pol i kharacter). Published originally in “Voprosy philosophii i psikhologii”, 1909, No. 98,   p. 494-500, (Klep. #157).
Article was included and republished thereafter within the 1910 Berdyaev book, “Dukhovnyi krisis intelligentsii” (“Spiritual Crisis of the Intelligentsia”) (Klep.#4, Sect. I, Ch. 13). My translation is made from the 1998  Moscow “Kanon” republished edition of the “Dukhovnyi krisis intelligentsii”, p. 166-172, — and whether this follows the pagination of the original 1910 text is not clear. I have not reproduced the scholarly footnotes of the 1998 editor, since my intent is to preserve and present the integrity of Berdyaev’s own original text; also as not to infringe copyright rights of the 1998 editor’s (V. V. Sapov’s) own work, at this interim point in time.


1 Published initially in journal “Voprosy philosophii i psikhologii” [“Questions of Philosophy and Psychology”],  May-June 1909.
2 Regretably, another book of Weininger, “The Final Word”, full of intuitions of genius, and in which he presents a genuine mysticism, was very badly translated.

3 [trans. note: by Christian scriptural tradition, the Risen Christ appeared first to Mary Magdalene and the other MyrhBearing Women, and only afterwards did He appear to the Apostles. Likewise in this vein is the truism, that in general there would be found but few men in church, were it not for the women getting them there].

4 The hostility of Weininger towards “Judaism” has nothing in common with the vulgar anti-Semitism, it is deeper and more terrible. From the perspective of Weininger, modern anti-Semitism is itself pervaded by a spirit of “Judaism”. In his views upon Judaism, Weininger follows R. Wagner. The question about the opposition of the Aryan and the Semitic culture again becomes strained.