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.

Translation: A dreaming grocer is offensive to the buyer, because he is no longer quite a grocer. Politeness demands that he restrain himself in his function as a grocer, just as the soldier standing at attention becomes a soldier-thing with a direct gaze but which does not see, which is no longer made to see, since it It is the regulations and not the interest of the moment which determines the point he must fix (the gaze “fixed at ten steps”). These are many precautions to imprison man in what he is. As if we lived in perpetual fear that he would escape, that he would overflow and suddenly escape his condition.

Translation by Google Translate. 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).

  • 2
    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
    Commented 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
    Commented 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
    Commented 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
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 9:48
  • 1
    As an English language site translations should always be provided into English. I have appended a basic translation, but do by all means substitute a more scholarly one
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 19:43

2 Answers 2


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
    Commented 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
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 13:03
  • Makes me think of Buddhist issues with meat eating, that the moral burden is on the slaughterer, & so especially in Tibet where farming prospects are very poor & mainly for barley but there are yaks, it's considered morally acceptable to leave the slaughter of animals to Hui Muslims. In Chinese Buddhism scrutiny from Confucian culture forced abandonment of mendicancy & adoption of collective moral responsibility, leading to full vegetarianism. There needs to be some flexibility, about getting people to do the best they can in the curcumstances they are in - which Kant would not accept at all
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 19:38
  • @CriglCragl Kant wouldn't accept people doing the best they can? I guess he lives up to his name.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 1:42
  • 1
    @ScottRowe: He'd say 'The power of logic compels you!' & hit you over the head with the Critique of Pure Reason, that by so doing he could will that doing so should become a universal law..
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 8:54

Margaret Thatcher was the daughter of a grocer. Her parents dreamed of having a boy.

The US animal agriculture system is exceptionally damaging to the environment, see Eating Our Way to Extinction and Seaspiracy (the most unethical bycatch is a big part of animal feed) among other documentaries. It also has a history of being exceptionally unethical to humans, as documented in Methland. It doesn't have to be like that, unless the only criteria is cheap food, an end, and the details of the means are ignored. Which they generally are. Especially that nearly all the workers in the industry are illegal immigrants, making them exceptiinally vulnerable to exploitation.

I think Sartre is on some of his weakest ground here. He was always obsessed with the existential experience of individuals. But not only did our happy maturing into an adult require care through infancy, we also required there to have been workers in the sewage system that cities are not limited to their 1870 ish size by cholera pandemics. When the Spanish arrived at Tenochtitlan, which is now central Mexico City, it was the biggest city in the world because of their incredibly productive and safe chinampa agriculture. The pacifist benefits from a legacy of people willing to die rather than lose what they have, even if they did not actually do so. We are all engaged in social contracts, and even contracts between generations as society changes. The atomised individual is a mirage, like a Private Language. To treat everyone as an end is a valuable ideal, but at the moment of our reaching maturity enough to realise it, we have treated all the population of human history to that moment as a means, we require them to have been for us to be.

Is it wrong for our nerve tissue to treat our intestinal tissue as a means? We are a whole, that benefits by synergy. So too with society. The proper attitude is to let everyone dream, everyone to be able to make a living while getting proper rest, and have opportunity for education and self improvement. The game-theory Categorical Imperative is, that we do better working together than alone.

We live in an age where all repetative jobs will be automated, so we must focus ever more clearly on letting humans do what is uniquely human, above all on making sound decisions about how to be, and what world to make.

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