What philosophical concept is Sartre alluding to?


There is a famous anecdote Sartre (I think it was Sartre) used to explain some philosophical concept. Roughly, he describes a person ordering a coffee without cream. The waiter explains that they don’t have any cream, but they can make a coffee without milk.

What exactly is this analogy alluding to? What is the philosophical idea behind it? Something about negatives or absence?

In: Other

>The French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre was sitting in a cafe when a waitress approached him: “Can I get you something to drink, Monsieur Sartre?” Sartre replied, “Yes, I’d like a cup of coffee with sugar, but no cream”. Nodding agreement, the waitress walked off to fill the order and Sartre returned to working. A few minutes later, however, the waitress returned and said, “I’m sorry, Monsieur Sartre, we are all out of cream — how about with no milk?”


> Zizek often makes that joke in the context of consumption to highlight a paradox of capitalism.

>Basically his idea is that the absence of something is a thing in itself. Nowadays you get products sold with “sugar free”, “Gluten free”, “Salt free”, “Additive or colorant free”, “Casein-free” labels.
A “sugar/gluten free” product is pricier than its less healthy equivalent, meaning that the “non-present” ingredients becomes marketable goods, as much as the actual ingredients. “Sugar-free” is a product in itself that we pay for. We pay for an absence.

>Soon the list of ingredients present (salt, sugar, wheat etc…) will be less long than the list of ingredients not present in the product (“sugar free”, “gluten-free” etc…).

>Maybe we’ll soon pay $10 for a salad because it will be “rubber-free” “petrol residue-free” “excrements-free” “mercury-free”… in the end it’s just some overpriced leaf. A trick to hyperinflate prices in other words.

I don’t think the joke is relevant to satre, insofar as just a “philosopher figure”. my interpretation would be it is commentary on capitalist consumerism and its increasing ridiculousness.

Sartre was into phenomenology, looking at ideas of conscious experience. In opposition to certain other philosophical schools that held “being” and “existence” as the absolute measure of something, Sartre held the perspective that negation and absence are also concrete realities and experiences in and of themselves. For example, if a loved one is absent and you miss them, their absence is not just a lack of presence, it is a separate and specific experience. He wrote a book called *Being and Nothingness* on this topic.

The joke in question takes this philosophical position to an absurd extreme, proposing that the deliberate absence of cream is its own specific experience, distinguished from an involuntary absence of cream due to lack of availability. In this world, the absence of milk is a different experience than the absence of cream, so the waiter needs to ask if it is an acceptable substitute.

oh my fucking god im so dumb i finally realised the joke:
it doesnt matter if the waiter is all out of cream because satre said he DIDNT WANT CREAM