It seems as though Otto Weininger is one of the most maligned and misunderstood thinkers out there. Half of this comes from the bucket-loads of misogynistic dudebro stuff that he slathered all over his main book – Sex & Character. Yet, Weininger was one of Wittgenstein’s influences – and he also happens to be one of my favourite thinkers. Wittgenstein proposed that Weininger was to be read with a ‘minus-sign’ in front of his writing in order to be understood. I sorta agree. Hidden within the seeming slime of prejudice and woman-hate are crazy ideas about the nature of logic, the amorphousness of gender, the nature of genius, and what it means to live ethically. Some of the passages from Weininger are so Wittgenstein that you cannot help but think of Weininger as the secret puzzle piece leading up to Wittgenstein’s development as a thinker – that everybody missed.
Let me start with Weininger’s views of Gender. If you flip through his humongous book you will find many many reams of pages dedicated to putting down the idea of the Feminine. But – all that is undermined when you read these paragraphs:
We assign sex to human beings from their birth on one character only, and so come to add contradictory ideas to our conceptions. Such a course is illogical.
There is a pitiful monotony in the fashion according to which, on such occasions, “men” and “women” have been treated as if, like red and white balls, they were alike in all respects save colour. In no case has the discussion been confined to an individual case, and as everyone had different individuals in their mind, a real agreement was impossible. As people meant different things by the same words, there was a complete disharmony between language and ideas.
It is only in obedience to the most general, practical demand for a superficial view that we classify, make sharp divisions pick out a single tune from the continuous melody of nature. But the old conceptions of the mind, like the customs of primitive commerce, become foolish in a new age.
Amongst human beings the state of the case is as follows: There exist all sorts of intermediate conditions between male and female – sexual transitional forms… In the same fashion we may suppose the existence of an idea man, M, and of an ideal woman, W, as sexual types although these types do not actually exist. Such types not only can be constructed, but must be constructed. As in art so in science, the real purpose is to reach the type, the Platonic Idea. The science of physics investigates the behaviour of bodies that are absolutely rigid or absolutely elastic, in the full knowledge that neither the one nor the other actually exists. The intermediate conditions actually existing between the two absolute states of matter serve merely as a starting-point for investigation of the “types” and in the practical application of the theory are treated as mixtures and exhaustively analysed. So also there exist only the intermediate stages between absolute males and females, the absolute conditions never presenting themselves… The fact is that males and females are like two substances combined in different proportions, but with either element never wholly missing. We find, so to speak, never either a man or a woman, but only the male condition and the female condition.
Holy. Shit. Does that mean that this misogynistic thinker from Vienna totally screwed over the idea of binary gender way before people started to propose that idea in areas like gender studies or whatnot?
Certainly, a paragraph like this doesn’t excuse Weininger from the rest of the stuff he writes. Even though he says that it is all about ‘Platonic Forms’ – some of his descriptions of the female are totally stereotypical to the max. Yet – Weininger is dead, and he blew his own brains out from self-hatred – so who cares about ‘excusing’ him or not? This is one of the most succinct attacks on binary gender to have ever been written.
If you Nietzschify his philosophy and replace every instance of Male & Female with Higher Thinker & Herd Follower – you can also have a greater idea of what he was actually talking about. For example:
The (intellectual) has the same psychical data as the (herd follower), but in a more articulated form; where it thinks more or less in henids, he thinks in more or less clear and detailed presentations in which the elements are distinct from the tones of feeling. With the (herd follower), thinking and feeling are identical, for (the intellectual) they are in opposition. The (herd follower) has many of its mental experiences as henids, whilst in (an intellectual) these have passed through a process of clarification. (A herd follower) is sentimental, and knows emotion but not mental excitement.
Above, I replaced all mentions of ‘female’ with ‘herd follower’ and all mentions of ‘male’ with ‘intellectual’. Suddenly, it seems less blatantly misogynistic and becomes more palatable. I would refine his thesis more with Kahneman – every single human being has the propensity to think in ‘henids’ (System 1) and to have clarity (System 2). But, if you take into account the fact that he said, earlier, that M & F (Intellectual & Herd) Platonic Forms are both prevalent in the human being – then you get the idea that Weininger basically theorized Kahneman’s Dual Systems before Kahneman verified it with empirical science.
But – the most Jesus Christ amazing chapters are his chapters on the Nature of Genius. The amount of stuff that Weininger throws onto you – the precision of prose with which he does it – and his reach of ideas – make slogging through the prejudicial stuff worth the wait.
Weininger’s primary idea is that Genius is Universal – that there is no artistic genius, or musical genius. Genius, summarized, is the ability for a man to grasp other men and to reach into the nature of man itself.
It would seem to follow that a man can best understand himself – a conclusion plainly absurd. 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. To grasp the universe, it would be necessary to get a standpoint outside the universe, and the possibility of such a standpoint is incompatible with the idea of a universe. He who could understand himself could understand the world. I do not make the statement merely as an explanation: it contains an important truth, to the significance of which I shall recur. For the present I am content to assert that no one can understand his deepest, most intimate nature.
This happens in actual practice; when one wishes to understand in a general way, it is always from other persons, never oneself, that one gets one’s materials. The other person chosen must be similar in some respect, however different as a whole; and, making use of this similarity, he can recognise, represent, comprehend. 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. If comprehension of those about him only flickers in him like a poor candle, then he is unable, like the great poet, to kindle a mighty flame in his heroes, to give distinction and character to his creations. The ideal of an artistic genius is to live in all men, to lose himself in all men, to reveal himself in multitudes; and so also the aim of the philosopher is to discover all others in himself, to fuse them into a unit which is his own unit.
I can link this idea to many others – Ted Chiang’s Hyperhuman in Understand, Douglas Hofstadter’s ‘Strange Loop’ in his Godel inspired philosophy of the mind, Nietzsche’s idea that philosophy is the memoir of its creator (Nietzsche was using it as a form of criticism, but Weininger uses it to say that philosophy – wielding the world-system to your psychology – is one of the most creative endeavours to exist).
Genius is Empathy – a domineering form of empathy that not just groks, but consumes the spirit of the other into his own. This is very close to the aesthetic philosophy of Dan Schneider – who believes that the best art must allow for ‘parallaxing’ and identification. Art must be a communicative victory over another entity’s cognition. This is why some people say – “after reading Subarashiki Hibi, I have thought about SCA-Ji philosophy every single day of my life”.
It is absolutely from his vision of the whole, in which the genius always lives, that he gets his sense of the parts. He values everything within him or without him by the standard of this vision, a vision that for him is no function of time, but a part of eternity. And so the man of genius is the profound man, and profound only in proportion to his genius. That is why his views are more valuable than those of all others. He constructs from everything his ego that holds the universe, whilst others never reach a full consciousness of this inner self, and so, for him, all things have significance, all things are symbolical. For him breathing is something more than the coming and going of gases through the walls of the capillaries; the blue of the sky is more than the partial polarisation of diffused and reflected light; snakes are not merely reptiles that have lost limbs.
By the way, speaking of SubaHibi – read this part again:
To grasp the universe, it would be necessary to get a standpoint outside the universe, and the possibility of such a standpoint is incompatible with the idea of a universe. He who could understand himself could understand the world.
He who could understand himself could understand the world.
The limits of myself are the limits of the world.
The nature of genius is the person who can get the view ‘in eternity’ – and caves the world into his understanding.
So – this is the secret to reading Wittgenstein. Basically, Wittgenstein was applying Weininger’s theories into his own logical format.
This protean character of genius is no more simultaneous than the bi-sexuality of which I have spoken. Even the greatest genius cannot understand the nature of all men at the same time, on one and the same day. The comprehensive and manifold rudiments which a man possesses in his mind can develop only slowly and by degrees with the gradual unfolding of his whole life. It appears almost as if there were a definite periodicity in his development. These periods, when they recur, however, are not exactly alike; they are not mere repetitions, but are intensifications of their predecessors, on a higher plane. 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. Thus it has frequently happened that famous men have conceived a piece of work in their early youth, laid it aside during manhood, and resumed and completed it in old age. Periods exist in every man, but in different degrees and with varying “amplitude.” Just as the genius is the man who contains in himself the greatest number of others in the most active way, so the amplitude of a man’s periods will be the greater the wider his mental relations may be. Illustrious men have often been told, by their teachers, in their youth “that they were always in one extreme or another.” As if they could be anything else! These transitions in the case of unusual men often assume the character of a crisis. Goethe once spoke of the “recurrence of puberty” in an artist. The idea is obviously to be associated with the matter under discussion.
It results from their periodicity that, 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. Every great man has such periods, of longer or shorter duration, times in which he loses self-confidence, in which he thinks of suicide; times in which, indeed, he may be sowing the seeds of a future harvest, but which are devoid of the stimulus to production; times which call forth the blind criticisms “How such a genius is degenerating!” “How he has played himself out!” “How he repeats himself!” and so forth.
This is a great characterization of artistic decline. Exploring this concept of artistic decline has been one of Dan Schneider’s pre-occupations as well. He deals with it over here. Weininger’s emo-ness shows itself by the end of the paragraph when he talks of suicide though.
But – this view of Genius being a period and not just a trait is amazing. Genius is the moment in your life when you can grok humanity the most – and can turn it into Art. So many people are quick to praise the idea of talents as Genius – and they worship people who have talent – but Genius is the throbbing domineering empathy that takes in others as your own. It is understanding humanity in full splendour. Anyone might have a period where they can do it – and it depends on whether they have the skills at that type to harness it fully. If they happen to be creative souls – they will be lucky enough to ride the wave. It is the fullness of being that uses the world as a palette to expound and discover the self – and self becomes continuous with world. This is such a humanistic view of Genius as compared to the sterile entity that sits above a plane of existence far beyond the heads of others. How’s that for a bit of SCA-Ji philosophy? Sakura no Uta shows how this concept of Genius can be applied practically – Naoya is the person who applies Universal Genius to create an art that helps others and gives them specific meaning.
(Of course, Weininger will also say that people with excessive F Platonic Form can’t be geniuses – and it goes full elitist. But this very characterization of Genius itself is so amazing that I just ignore that stuff.)
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 genius is a man who knows everything without having learned it.
A lot more text is spent propounding on the traits of Genius.
This brings us in another fashion to the subject of the last chapter, and to another reason for the great memories of genius. The more significant a man is, the more different personalities he unites in himself, the more interests that are contained in him, the more wide his memory must be. All men have practically the same opportunities of perception, but the vast majority of men apprehend only an infinitesimal part of what they have perceived. The ideal genius is one in whom perception and apprehension are identical in their field. Of course no such being actually exists. On the other hand, there is no man who has apprehended nothing that he has perceived. In this way we may take it that all degrees of genius (not talent) exist; no male is quite without a trace of genius. Complete genius is an ideal; no man is absolutely without the quality, and no man possesses it completely. Apprehension or absorption, and memory or retention, vary together in their extent and their permanence. There is an uninterrupted gradation from the man whose mentality is unconnected from moment to moment, and to whom no incidents can signify anything because there is within him nothing to compare them with (such an extreme, of course, does not exist) to the fully developed minds for which everything is unforgettable, because of the firm impressions made and the sureness with which they are absorbed. The extreme genius also does not exist, because even the greatest genius is not wholly a genius at every moment of his life.
Perception & Apprehension are Identical in their Field – this is very much the amazing description of instinctual creation. It plays into those descriptions of Mathematicians where they say that their logical capabilities have gotten to the extent where it feels like their manipulation of symbols is done with the same finesse as an artist manipulating a brush (the Mathematician Ramanujan supposedly received his equations when he dreamt that an Indian goddess bled on him). It is linked with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi concept of Flow as that state where you lose yourself in the world. Zhuangzi wrote about it with his parable of the butcher:
Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now — now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and following things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.
“A good cook changes his knife once a year — because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month — because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room — more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.
The idea of memory as contributing to genius is a bit weaker – since having the content is only one part of it. I forgot which great scientist (Feynman?) it was who recounted a story about a colleague who could remember many texts within the library and their data – but he made the comment that that person would never make a breakthrough it any field. It is just as important to be unrooted to content as it is to have it. Pure memorization is half of the equation – and the other half is how to mix the content into something novel and revolutionary.
This kind of instinctual memory was what manifested, it seems, in Picasso – he mastered the human form early in his youth. The rest of his time was taken to breaking it – finding new ways of perception that was palatable to the human senses while destroying it – and could communicate that universal Genius to them. I read a neuro-aesthetic article about how Picasso would frequently use ‘blending’ – that is he’d skew the human model in such a way that your perceptual model of the human body would read it in two different ways. So you would read one of the women’s faces in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as both facing the front and facing to the side. The example I always bring up is the kiss that is also a face.
Now the difference between Picasso and Modern Artists is exactly that Universal Genius – his manipulations of the art form are used to create new pathways to personal meaning. In that sense – an artist is supposed to make a labyrinth, and not a wilderness. There are multiple pathways leading to different treasures depending on the viewer’s experience & cognition – but it is completely different from abstract hermeticism that throws a viewer in a desert until they start conspiracy theorizing all sorts of meanings. Sure – they’ll find their own meaning from it – but it will be their meaning, and their biases. An echo-chamber – not communication. I think there was an artist (it may have been Zak Sabbath) who said that the secret to Klimt was his discovery that Abstract Art is all around us – and it’s called decoration.
As a sidenote on that instinctual memory – there are those writers who are slow, ponderous, and they develop their story bit by bit (e.g. Flaubert, and probably Proust) – and there are those who just decide to see the story lead them to wherever (Kerouac). I am now certain that a little bit of both is required. The writing itself must hew to instinct – but the author should also have developed the idea of what he wanted to write over time. This allows for the various pathways of creativity while also being rooted to a model.
Why do I believe this? Well, I happen to be reading the longest book in the English language (roughly 2.5 million words) and the author claims to have written it in a single 1.5 year burst – going by pure instinct after having it ruminate in his mind across the years. I’m talking about Dan of course. And A Norwegian in the Family is such a goddamn miracle that – if that is true – then both ‘plot-writers’ and ‘instinct-writers’ are totally totally totally one-sided in their approach. As always – the truth is a mixture of both. The book hews to Weininger’s Standards of Universal Genius to the point where every single named character, secondary character, and tertiary character receives such development that I feel as though a good 60% of possible human psychology was recorded in a single tome (and I’m only 1/10 of the way through it). I can probably steal some of the stuff that Dan set within a single tertiary character of his book and use it to create an entire light novel series protagonist from those character axioms.
Anyway, to continue on Weininger’s description of memory:
This faculty will be best developed in those whose past permeates their present, all the moments of the life of whom are amalgamated. Such persons will have the greatest opportunities of detecting resemblances and so finding the material for comparisons. They will always seize hold of from the past what has the greatest resemblance to the present experience, and the two experiences will be combined in such a way that no similarities or differences will be concealed. And so they are able to maintain the past against the influence of the present.
This is very similar to Kierkegaard’s view of Continuity in the ethical life I think. It’s been some time since I read Either/Or but I remember seeing something like this over there. The aesthetic life is broken up into separate little chunks – but the Ethical life has a continuity that comes from living a beautiful daily life and ensuring that the full force of your being is at work in every single moment of living. On the other hand – Weininger uses it to talk about aesthetics. Poetic resemblance in imagery & metaphor is precisely that melding of past experience and present in such a way to create a new type of intercontinuity. Poetry is not merely aesthetic – but it is about embodying life into text and rooting the reader into that form of Universal Genius. The tools of poetry – like meter & all the other literary terms that people learn in school – are mere tools to build that higher communication. This is the difference between a poet ruled by rules of stuff like fixed metrical structure – and one who can unroot himself like Dan, to create a meaningful commentary on everything in the world.
The request for an autobiography would put most men into a most painful position; they could scarcely tell if they were asked what they had done the day before. Memory with most people is quite spasmodic and purely associative. In the case of the man of genius every impression that he has received endures; he is always under the influence of his impressions; and so nearly all men of genius tend to suffer from fixed ideas. 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.
Reminds me a lot of the concept of Gestalt in Ted Chiang’s Understand – where the Hyperhuman is able to grasp many things together from their hidden connections.
Now we come to the most Wittgensteinian part of Weininger – his thoughts on Logic
Pure logical thought cannot occur in the case of men; it would be an attribute of deity. A human being must always think partly psychologically because he possesses not only reason but also senses, and his thought cannot free itself from temporal experiences but must remain bound by them. Logic, however, is the supreme standard by which the individual can test his own psychological ideas and those of others.
When two men are discussing anything it is the conception and not the varying individual presentations of it that they aim at. The conception, then, is the standard of value for the individual presentations. The mode in which the psychological generalisation comes into existence is quite independent of the conceptions and has no significance in respect to it. The logical character which invests the conception with dignity and power is not derived from experience, for experience can give only vague and wavering generalisations. Absolute constancy and absolute coherence which cannot come from experience are the essence of the conception of that power concealed in the depths of the human mind whose handiwork we try hard but in vain to see in nature. Conceptions are the only true realities, and the conception is not in nature; it is the rule of the essence not of the actual existence.
When I enunciate the proposition A = A, the meaning of the proposition is not that a special individual A of experience or of thought is like itself. The judgment of identity does not depend on the existence of an A. It means only that if an A exists, or even if it does not exist, then A = A. Something is posited, the existence of A = A whether or no A itself exists. It cannot be the result of experience, as Mill supposed, for it is independent of the existence of A. But an existence has been posited; it is not the existence of the object; it must be the existence of the subject. The reality of the existence is not in the first A or the second A, but in the simultaneous identity of the two. And so the proposition A = A is no other than the proposition “I am.”
From the psychological point of view, the real meaning of the proposition of identity is not so difficult to interpret. It is clear that to be able to say A = A, to establish the permanence of the conception through the changes of experience, there must be something unchangeable, and this can be only the subject. Were I part of the stream of change I could not verify that the A had remained unchanged, had remained itself. Were I part of the change, I could not recognise the change. Fichte was right when he stated that the existence of the ego was to be found concealed in pure logic, inasmuch as the ego is the condition of intelligible existence.
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, and so he can find it. The duty of cognition involves the possibility of cognition, the freedom of thought, and the hope of ascertaining truth. In the fact that logic is the condition of the mind lies the proof that thought is free and can reach its goal.
Truth, purity, faithfulness, uprightness, with reference to oneself; these give the only conceivable ethics. Duty is only duty to oneself, duty of the empirical ego to the intelligible ego. These appear in the form of two imperatives that will always put to shame every kind of psychologismus – the logical law and the moral law. The internal direction, the categorical imperatives of logic and morality which dominate all the codes of social utilitarianism are factors that no empiricism can explain. All empiricism and scepticism, positivism and relativism, instinctively feel that their principal difficulties lie in logic and ethics. And so perpetually renewed and fruitless efforts are made to explain this inward discipline empirically and psychologically. 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, which is overshadowed in the one case by error, in the other by untruth. All ethics are possible only by the laws of logic, and logic is no more than the ethical side of law. Not only virtue, but also insight, not only sanctity but also wisdom, are the duties and tasks of mankind. Through the union of these alone comes perfection.
Ethics, however, the laws of which are postulates, cannot be made the basis of a logical proof of existence. Ethics are not logical in the same sense that logic is ethical. Logic proves the absolute actual existence of the ego; ethics control the form which the actuality assumes. Ethics dominate logic and make logic part of their contents.
Well, reading this part gives us a clue as to why Wittgenstein was such a demonic maths teacher and a bitch about logic.
The history of the human race (naturally I mean the history of its mind and not merely its wars) is readily intelligible on the theory of the appearance of genius, and of the imitation by the more monkey-like individuals of the conduct of those with genius. The chief stages, no doubt, were house- building, agriculture, and above all, speech. Every single word has been the invention of a single man, as, indeed, we still see, if we leave out of consideration the merely technical terms. How else could language have arisen? The earliest words were “onomatopoetic”; a sound similar to the exciting cause was evolved almost without the will of the speaker, in direct response to the sensuous stimulation. All the other words were originally metaphors, or comparisons, a kind of primitive poetry, for all prose has come from poetry. Many, perhaps the majority of the greatest geniuses, have remained unknown. Think of the proverbs, now almost commonplaces, such as “one good turn deserves another.” These were said for the first time by some great man. How many quotations from the classics, or sayings of Christ, have passed into the common language, so that we have to think twice before we can remember who were the authors of them. Language is as little the work of the multitude as our ballads. Every form of speech owes much that is not acknowledged to individuals of another language. Because of the universality of genius, the words and phrases that he invents are useful not only to those who use the language in which he wrote them. A nation orients itself by its own geniuses, and derives from them its ideas of its own ideals, but the guiding star serves also as a light to other nations. As speech has been created by a few great men, the most extraordinary wisdom lies concealed in it, a wisdom which reveals itself to a few ardent explorers but which is usually overlooked by the stupid professional philologists.
The genius is not a critic of language, but its creator, as he is the creator of all the mental achievements which are the material of culture and which make up the objective mind, the spirit of the peoples. The “timeless” men are those who make history, for history can be made only by those who are not floating with the stream. It is only those who are unconditioned by time who have real value, and whose productions have an enduring force. And the events that become forces of culture become so only because they have an enduring value.
And this has to do with language tailoring the very nature of the world – but it also happens to be the opposite of “Thereof one must be silent”. On the contrary – new words must be made.
And, finally, Weininger on Ethics & Morality. I think there is plenty enough to chew on here, so my commentary stops here:
The second failure of all the systems of ethics founded on sympathy is that they attempt to find a foundation for morality, to explain morality, whilst the very conception of morality is that it should be the ultimate standard of human conduct, and so must be inexplicable and non-derivative, must be its own purpose, and cannot be brought into relation of cause and effect with anything outside itself. This attempted derivation of morality is simply another aspect of the purely descriptive, and therefore necessarily, relative, ethics, and is untenable from the fact that however diligently the search be made, it is impossible to find in the sphere of causes and effects a high aim that would be applicable to every moral action. The inspiring motive of an action cannot come from any nexus of cause and effect; it is much more in the nature of things for cause and effect to be linked with an inspiring moral aim. Outside the domain of first causes there lies a domain of moral aims, and this latter domain is the inheritance of mankind. The complete science of existence is a linking together of first causes until the first cause of all is reached, and a complete science of “oughts” leads to a union of all in one great aim, the culminating moral imperative.
He who rates sympathy as a positive moral factor has treated as moral something that is a feeling, not an act. Sympathy may be an ethical phenomenon, the expression of something ethical, but it is no more an ethical act than are the senses of shame and pride; we must clearly distinguish between an ethical act and an ethical phenomenon. Nothing must be considered an ethical act that is not a confirmation of the ethical idea by action; ethical phenomena are unpremeditated, involuntary signs of a permanent tendency of the disposition towards the moral idea. It is in the struggle between motives that the idea presses in and seeks to make the decision; the empirical mixture of ethical and unethical feelings, sympathy and malice, self-confidence and presumption, gives no help towards a conclusion. Sympathy is, perhaps, the surest sign of a disposition, but it is not the moral purpose inspiring an action. Morality must imply conscious knowledge of the moral purpose and of value as opposed to worthlessness. Socrates was right in this, and Kant is the only modern philosopher who has followed him. Sympathy is a non-logical sensation, and has no claim to respect.
But how can I show a man my contempt, and how prove to him my respect? The first by ignoring him, the second by being friendly with him.
How can I use him as a means to an end, and how can I honour him by regarding him himself as an end? In the first case, by looking upon him as a link in the chain of circumstances with which I have to deal; in the second, by endeavouring to understand him. It is only by interesting oneself in a man, without exactly telling him so, by thinking of him, by grasping his work, by sympathising with his fate, and by seeking to understand him, that one can respect one’s neighbour. Only he who, through his own afflictions, has become unselfish, who forgets small wranglings with his fellow man, who can repress his impatience, and who endeavours to understand him, is really disinterested with regard to his neighbour; and he behaves morally because he triumphs over the strongest enemy to his understanding of his neighbour – selfishness.
How does the famous man stand in this respect? He who understands the most men, because he is most universal in disposition, and who lives in the closest relation to the universe at large, who most earnestly desires to understand its purpose, will be most likely to act well towards his neighbour.
As a matter of fact, no one thinks so much or so intently as he about other people (even although he has only seen them for a moment), and no one tries so hard to understand them if he does not feel that he already has them within him in all their significance. Inasmuch as he has a continuous past, a complete ego of his own, he can create the past which he did not know for others. He follows the strongest bent of his inner being if he thinks about them, for he seeks only to come to the truth about them by understanding them. He sees that human beings are all members of an intelligible world, and which there is no narrow egoism or altruism. This is the only explanation of how it is that great men stand in vital, understanding relationship, not only with those round about them, but with all the personalities of history who have preceded them; this is the only reason why great artists have grasped historical personalities so much better and more intensively than scientific historians. There has been no great man who has not stood in a personal relationship to Napoleon, Plato, or Mahomet. It is in this way that he shows his respect and true reverence for those who have lived before him. When many of those who have been intimate with artists feel aggrieved when later on they recognise themselves in their works; when writers are reproached for treating everything as copy, it is easy enough to understand the feeling. But the artist or author who does not heed the littlenesses of mankind has committed no crime, he has simply employed his creative act of understanding with regard to them, by a single-minded representation and reproduction of the world around him, and there can be no higher relation between men than this. The following words of Pascal, which have already been mentioned, are specially applicable here : “The greater intellect one has, the more originality one finds in men. Ordinary persons find no difference between men.”
It follows from the foregoing that the greater a man is the greater efforts he will make to understand things that are most strange to him, whilst the ordinary man readily thinks that he understands a thing, although it may be something he does not at all understand, so that he fails to perceive the unfamiliar spirit which is appealing to him from some object of art or from a philosophy, and at most attains a superficial relation to the subject, but does not rise to the inspiration of its creator. The great man who attains to the highest rungs of consciousness does not easily identify himself and his opinion with anything he reads, whilst those with a lesser clarity of mind adopt, and imagine that they absorb, things that in reality are very different. The man of genius is he whose ego has acquired consciousness. He is enabled by it to distinguish the fact that others are different, to perceive the “ego” of other men, even when it is not pronounced enough for them to be conscious of it themselves. But it is only he who feels that every other man is also an ego, a monad, an individual centre of the universe, with specific manner of feeling and thinking and a distinct past, he alone is in a position to avoid making use of his neighbours as means to an end, he, according to the ethics of Kant, will trace, anticipate, and therefore respect the personality in his companion (as part of the intelligible universe), and will not merely be scandalised by him. The psychological condition of all practical altruism, therefore is theoretical individualism.
We are preparing for a real ethical relation to our fellow men when we make them conscious that each of them possesses a higher self, a soul, and that they must realise the souls in others.
This relation is, however, manifested in the most curious manner in the man of genius. No one suffers so much as he with the people, and, therefore, for the people, with whom he lives. For, in a certain sense, it is certainly only “by suffering” that a man knows. If compassion is not itself clear, abstractly conceivable or visibly symbolic knowledge, it is, at any rate, the strongest impulse for the acquisition of knowledge. It is only by suffering that the genius understands men. And the genius suffers most because he suffers with and in each and all; but he suffers most through his understanding.
So – who is Otto Weininger? Is he a racist, misogynist, egoist, moralist, humanist, aestheticist, logicist, Platonist, elitist, rationalist, or even a progressive? He seems to be all of these things at once, and yet things are even more complicated. It seems strange that a man who was so enamoured with the idea of universal genius and understanding others – made such horrible leaps of logic and psychology on understanding other people – and especially the opposite sex. Thus – do as the great Ludwig said – read him with a huge minus sign in your mind at all times – but read him, at the very least!