Otto Weininger

Austrian philosopher and writer (1880-1903)

Otto Weininger (April 3, 1880October 4, 1903) was an Austrian philosopher of Jewish descent. 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.

The highest expression of all morality is: Be!
If man were not free, then he could not conceive of causality at all, and could not form any concept of it. Insight into lawfulness is already freedom from it.



Collected Aphorisms

As translated by Martin Dudaniec & Kevin Solway
  • The highest expression of all morality is: Be!
  • Man must act in such a way that the whole of his individuality lies in each moment.
  • Most of the time man does not do what he wills, but what he has willed. Through his decisions, he always gives himself only a certain direction, in which he then moves until the next moment of reflection. We do not will continuously, we only will intermittently, piece by piece. We thus save ourselves from willing: principle of the economy of the will. But the higher man always experiences this as thoroughly immoral.
  • That is why man can also never understand himself: For he is himself a timeless act; an act which he performs continuously, and there is no moment in which he might not perform it, as there would have to be to understand himself.
  • Psychologism is the most comfortable conception of life, because according to it there are no longer any more problems. That is why it also condemns all solutions from the outset, since it acknowledges the actual problems as little as the idea of truth.
  • Idiocy: crudeness’ intellectual equivalent.
  • People should also not want to determine themselves causally in such a way: I will now … become good once and for all, and do good by nature, because I could not then do anything else. For through this one denies the freedom which can in each moment negate all the past. … One makes himself into an object when one establishes causality in that way; for a morality to which I have been compelled is already not a morality.
  • If man were not free, then he could not conceive of causality at all, and could not form any concept of it. Insight into lawfulness is already freedom from it.
  • In men of genius, sterile years precede productive years, these again to be followed by sterility, the barren periods being marked by psychological self-depreciation, by the feeling that they are less than other men; times in which the remembrance of the creative periods is a torment, and when they envy those who go about undisturbed by such penalties. Just as his moments of ecstasy are more poignant, so are the periods of depression of a man of genius more intense than those of other men [Wie seine Ekstasen gewaltiger sind als die der anderen, so sind auch seine Depressionen fürchterlicher]. Every great man has such periods, of longer or shorter duration, times in which he loses self-confidence, … times in which, indeed, he may be sowing the seeds of a future harvest, but which are devoid of the stimulus to production.
Authorized 1906 translation of Geschlecht und Charakter
  • Great men take themselves and the world too seriously to become what is called merely intellectual. Men who are merely intellectual are insincere; they are people who have never really been deeply engrossed by things and who do not feel an overpowering desire for production. All that they care about is that their work should glitter and sparkle like a well-cut stone, not that it should illuminate anything. They are more occupied with what will be said of what they think than by the thoughts themselves.
    • p. 104.
  • There are men who are willing to marry a woman they do not care about merely because she is admired by other men. Such a relation exists between many men and their thoughts.
    • p. 104.
  • In order to depict a man one must understand him, and to understand him one must be like him; in order to portray his psychological activities one must be able to reproduce them in oneself. To understand a man one must have his nature in oneself.
    • p. 105.
  • To understand a man is really to be that man.
    • p. 105.
  • No one can understand himself, for to do that he would have to get outside himself; the subject of the knowing and willing activity would have to become its own object.
    • pp. 105-106.
  • So far as one understands a man, one is that man. The man of genius takes his place in the above argument as he who understands incomparably more other beings than the average man. Goethe is said to have said of himself that there was no vice or crime of which he could not trace the tendency in himself, and that at some period of his life he could not have understood fully. The genius, therefore, is a more complicated, more richly endowed, more varied man; and a man is the closer to being a genius the more men he has in his personality, and the more really and strongly he has these others within him.
    • p. 106.
  • No two moments in the life of an individual are exactly alike; there is between the later and the earlier periods only the similarity of the higher and lower parts of a spiral ascent.
    • p. 107.
  • In men of genius, sterile years precede productive years, these again to be followed by sterility, the barren periods being marked by psychological self-depreciation, by the feeling that they are less than other men; times in which the remembrance of the creative periods is a torment, and when they envy those who go about undisturbed by such penalties. Just as his moments of ecstasy are more poignant, so are the periods of depression of a man of genius more intense than those of other men.
    • p. 107.
  • The number of different aspects that the face of a man has assumed may be taken almost as a physiognomical measure of his … genius.
    • p. 108.
  • Zola, who has so faithfully described the impulse to commit murder, did not himself commit a murder, because there were so many other characters in him. The actual murderer is in the grasp of his own disposition: the author describing the murder is swayed by a whole kingdom of impulses. Zola would know the desire for murder much better than the actual murderer would know it, he would recognise it in himself, if it really came to the surface in him, and he would be prepared for it. In such ways the criminal instincts in great men are intellectualised and turned to artistic purposes as in the case of Zola, or to philosophic purposes as with Kant, but not to actual crime.
    • p. 109.
  • In the case of complex personalities the matter stands thus: one of these can understand other men better than they can understand themselves, because within himself he has not only the character he is grasping, but also its opposite. Duality is necessary for observation and comprehension.
    • pp. 109-110.
  • Colour-blindness always extends to the complementary colours. Those who are red blind are also green blind; those who are blind to blue have no consciousness of yellow. This law holds good for all mental phenomena; it is a fundamental condition of consciousness.
    • p. 110.
  • Genius declares itself to be a kind of higher masculinity.
    • p. 111.
  • Universality is the distinguishing mark of genius. There is no such thing as a special genius, a genius for mathematics, or for music, or even for chess, but only a universal genius. … The theory of special genius, according to which for instance, it is supposed that a musical genius should be a fool at other subjects, confuses genius with talent. … There are many kinds of talent, but only one kind of genius, and that is able to choose any kind of talent and master it.
    • p. 112.
  • Woman, in short, has an unconscious life, man a conscious life, and the genius the most conscious life.
    • p. 113.
  • As the mental endowment of a man varies with the organisation of his accumulated experiences, the better endowed he is, the more readily will he be able to remember his whole past, everything that he has ever thought or heard, seen or done, perceived or felt, the more completely in fact will he be able to reproduce his whole life. Universal remembrance of all its experiences, therefore, is the surest, most general, and most easily proved mark of a genius.
    • pp. 114-115.
  • If it really were the case, as popular opinion has tried to establish, that the genius were separated from ordinary men by a thick wall through which no sound could penetrate, then all understanding of the efforts of genius would be denied to ordinary men, and their works would fail to make any impression on them. All hopes of progress depend on this being untrue. And it is untrue. The difference between men of genius and the others is quantitative not qualitative, of degree not of kind.
    • p. 121.
  • There is, moreover, very little sense in preventing young people from giving expression to their ideas on the pretext that they have less experience than have older persons. There are many who may live a thousand years without encountering experience of any value. It could only be in a society of persons equally gifted that such an idea could have any meaning.
    • p. 121.
  • The psychical condition of men’s minds may be compared with a set of bells close together, and so arranged that in the ordinary man a bell rings only when one beside it sounds, and the vibration lasts only a moment. In the genius, when a bell sounds it vibrates so strongly that it sets in action the whole series, and remains in action throughout life. The latter kind of movement often gives rise to extraordinary conditions and absurd impulses, that may last for weeks together and that form the basis of the supposed kinship of genius with insanity.
    • pp. 122-123.
  • With ordinary men the moments which are united in a close continuity out of the original discrete multiplicity are very few, and the course of their lives resembles a little brook, whereas with the genius it is more like a mighty river into which all the little rivulets flow from afar; that is to say, the universal comprehension of genius vibrates to no experience in which all the individual moments have not been gathered up and stored.
    • p. 124.
  • A man is first reverent about himself, and self-respect is the first stage in reverence for all things.
    • p. 127.
  • A man is himself important precisely in proportion that all things seem important to him.
    • p. 127.
  • The great genius does not let his work be determined by the concrete finite conditions that surround him, whilst it is from these that the work of the statesman takes its direction and its termination. … It is the genius in reality and not the other who is the creator of history, for it is only the genius who is outside and unconditioned by history.
    • p. 139.
  • The great man of science, unless he is also a philosopher, … deserves the title of genius as little as the man of action.
    • pp. 139-140.
  • Memory, then, is a necessary part of the logical faculty. … The proposition A = A must have a psychological relation to time, otherwise it would be At1 = At2.
    • p. 148.
  • A creature that cannot grasp the mutual exclusiveness of A and not A has no difficulty in lying; more than that, such a creature has not even any consciousness of lying, being without a standard of truth.
    • p. 150.
  • That which enables man to have a real relation to truth and which removes his temptation to lie, must be something independent of all time, something absolutely unchangeable, which as faithfully reproduces the old as if it were new, because it is permanent itself; it can only be that source in which all discrete experiences unite and which creates from the first a continuous existence. It is what produces the feeling of responsibility which oppresses all men, young and old, as to their actions, which makes them know that they are responsible, which leads to the phenomena of repentance and consciousness of sin, which calls to account before an eternal and ever present self things that are long past, its judgment being subtler and more comprehensive than that of any court of law or of the laws of society, and which is exerted by the individual himself quite independently of all social codes (so condemning the moral psychology which would derive morality from the social life of man).
    • p. 151.
  • The logical axioms are the principle of all truth. These posit an existence towards which all cognition serves. Logic is a law which must be obeyed, and man realises himself only in so far as he is logical. He finds himself in cognition. All error must be felt to be crime. And so man must not err. He must find the truth.
    • p. 158.
  • The deepest, the intelligible, part of the nature of man is that part which does not take refuge in causality, but which chooses in freedom the good or the bad.
    • p. 158.
    • Logic and ethics are fundamentally the same, they are no more than duty to oneself. They celebrate their union by the highest service of truth.
    • p. 159.
  • Not only virtue, but also insight, not only sanctity but also wisdom, are the duties and tasks of mankind.
    • p. 159.
  • Man is alone in the world, in tremendous eternal isolation. He has no object outside himself; lives for nothing else; he is far removed from being the slave of his wishes, of his abilities, of his necessities; he stands far above social ethics; he is alone. Thus he becomes one and all.
    • [Paraphrasing Kant] p. 162.
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