Intellectual Joke

January 30, 2014
Author Article Fun

Jean-Paul Sartre
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

There is a thread on Reddit that is asking for intellectual jokes. Here is one of the jokes placed there.

Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French cafe, revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, “I'd like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream.” The waitress replies, “I'm sorry, Monsieur, but we're out of cream. How about with no milk?”

Do you get it? Laugh? Actually, I did smile a bit.

Even more fascinating than the joke is the fact that several other contributors then proceeded to analyze the joke.

I already think this joke is funny but I'd bet I'd find it funnier if I knew what the connection was to Sartre or “Being and Nothingness”

One of the big themes in Sartre's philosophy is the idea of genuine choice versus just the appearance of having a choice. So he can't meaningfully choose to have his coffee with no cream, because he could never have had it with cream to begin with, but he can meaningfully choose to have it with no milk.

Yes, Sartre wrote about choice, but that joke is obviously referencing his notion of nothingness, which he took to mean a physical nothing, rather than the simple lack of a something. He famously put this to analogy with his story about Pierre. You go to the café to meet your friend Pierre, but when you arrive, he’s not there. What you feel is the active LACK of Pierre. You look around expecting to see him but you do not. He is a nothingness that is felt. So the joke about “no cream” is turned around with a nothingness of milk.

Day 19, I have successfully conditioned my master to smile and write in his book every time I drool.- Pavlov's Dog

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