Preface: Source 2 quoted this same passage but in English. As I can read French, I quoted the French original but please command me to post the English translation if I should have.
Source 1: p 94, L'être et le néant (édition Gallimard de 1976) by JP Sartre

Un épicier qui rêve est offensant pour l'acheteur, parce qu'il n'est plus tout à fait un épicier. La politesse exige qu'il se contienne dans sa fonction d'épicier, comme le soldat au garde-à-vous se fait chose-soldat avec un regard direct mais qui ne voit point, qui n'est plus fait pour voir, puisque c'est le règlement et non l'intérêt du moment qui détermine le point qu'il doit fixer (le regard « fixé à dix pas ») . Voilà bien des précautions pour emprisonner l'homme dans ce qu'il est. Comme si nous vivions dans la crainte perpétuelle qu'il n'y échappe, qu'il ne déborde et n'élude tout à coup sa condition.

Source 2: p 194, Philosophy: A Complete Introduction (2012) by Prof. Sharon Kaye MA PhD (in Philosophy, U. Toronto)

The waiter, the grocer and you may as well be androids. While Wittgenstein is content to accept this, Sartre is not.

To me, Sartre appears to treat the professions above as Means, and not Ends. So does Sartre's disdain and objectification of the above professions, contradict Kant's Categorical Imperative to treat people as means and not ends?

I understand that for a typical day on the job, as means to an income, grocers do not dream, and a (low-ranking) solder standing at attention does not contemplate the world. But if we consider them both as humans (as ends after receiving income), then the grocer CAN dream (e.g. maybe the grocer is rich and does math in her spare time), and the soldier can contemplate the world (e.g. maybe she composes literature about her military experiences).

  • 1
    What do you mean by "contradict"? Do you mean do Kant and Sartre disagree or do you mean that it somehow breaks the CI for Kantians?
    – virmaior
    Mar 23, 2016 at 4:13
  • @virmaior Sorry for the confusion; yes I meant that they appear to disagree, but also that Sartre's low opinion violates the CI for Kantians.
    – user8572
    Mar 23, 2016 at 4:16
  • Just one point to consider: In the kantian original, it says "merely as means". It is just fine to use people and professions as means, you just also have to treat them as end in themselves, i.e. you have to consider their own interest and freedom as part of your decisions (as already said in my answer to the linked question).
    – Philip Klöcking
    Mar 23, 2016 at 10:58
  • This is not Sartre's view. Sartre describes how society wants people to be: he writes "la politesse exige.. le reglement determine.." Notoriously and obviously Sartre disagrees.
    – sand1
    Mar 25, 2016 at 9:48
  • All the right words, perhaps I should say ideas, are in their correct positions. Now ta play ... the game? In a room fulla balls, what is the worst mistake you can make? Sartre hasn't shown all his cards - hardta tell if he's anti-Kant. May 26 at 5:32

1 Answer 1


We all have no choice but to treat our mothers as means. So your reading of this version of the imperative would mean we all had to stop being humans.

If we could not use one another as means, we would have no professions at all. But those people also need to be included as ends. Professional culture needs to not foreclose them from attaining their desires, and it needs not to lock them into their function in a way that violates their autonomy.

In societies that treat the basal working class (unskilled labor) as ends, any grocery stocker could also be a poet or an artist, and might earn his way into any other profession. That does not mean that he can simply walk away from his current duties any more than the pilot of your plane can resign in mid-flight. But a reasonable level of flexibility must exist for the individual to have autonomy about his daily decisions.

(I am told -- I have no reference) Kant himself argued for limiting one's intake of meat on the basis that work as a slaughterer in a mass concern in his own society is a use of a man as an end. In his culture, it paid poorly enough that it required continual labor that prevented pursuit of much else, it was done forthrightly in ways that directly contradicted natural human impulses to compassion, and it was easily disrespected socially because the resulting effects on one physically (smell, ruined posture, etc.) were easily observed.

  • Thanks. In your last paragraph, did you really intend to write 'concern' in work as a slaughterer in a mass concern?
    – user8572
    May 12, 2016 at 2:03
  • @LePressentiment I did. A "business concern" is a commercial or industrial enterprise and the people who constitute it, independent of form, scale or subdivision. A "mass (business) concern", then is one of these which is large enough that no individual can reasonably take complete responsibility for it in detail. (In particular, in Europe, '(business) concern' most often refers to networks of businesses with shared management, so that it is ambiguous whether they are a single entity, or separate businesses in a conglomerate. I did not mean this specific notion. We don't use it in the US)
    – user9166
    May 12, 2016 at 13:03

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