on Louis Rivoire
Louis Rivoire was born in Paris, France, fall of 1987. Having lived abroad for some time, following his father in Thailand, he's back in Paris to study marketing and business.
Hello Louis. Would you share with us the moment you first discovered Stoicism?
Three years ago, or so, in my local library. I was used to the philosophy section, but I became an even more regular customer when I first took a stoic book in hand. It was Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.
What made you keep on reading it?
The abscence of any dogma; the fact that this text was first written by a man for himself, which, in fact, makes it universal.
Marcus Aurelius may sound a little cliché sometimes because I think he goes straight to what he means, without any surrounding stories or parables. That is what I actually like. As a matter of fact, I discovered Stoicism because in all the different philosphical material I was reading, each one of them was making a least one reference to Stoicism, or a Stoic author, every idea seems to correspond to a stoic notion.
You talk about the absence of dogmas, but the ancient Stoics were regularly criticized precisely because their philosophy was dogmatic (which it objectively was, for example regarding what was corporeal/incorporeal, etc.). How much of the ancient dogmas do you know, and how useful do you find them?
I don't like to answer with quotes that much, but there is one fitting so much what I want to say that I'll still do it!
If you do not specify the rules of life to people who have not attained wisdom, they are left confused and if we formulate these rules in a dogmatic way, we take the risk of turning them into absolute and to forget that wisdom is freedom toward these rules1.
So it is a dilemma, I know the ancient Stoics were very strict about their way of life, but it was the expression of their freedom.
I recently made the choice to quit all drinking, smoking or any narcotics in order to stay as close to reality as possible. Even though this is not exactly what the Stoics were advocating (at least not all of them), I put this decision in a whole philosophical practice. Can we call this a dogma ? Maybe...
I take dogmas in Stoicism more as advices for life than strict rules. One main key-word of Stoicism, I think, is "Moderation", or "Decent use".
So, Louis, can you tell us a bit about your life until now?
I like to say that a lot of my education, after my parents of course, comes from music and philosohpy. I listen to a lot of music a play it with friends. Philosophy brings me everyday everything I need to live in accordance to what I think we, humans, are. Otherwise, I have a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing and currently studying for a MBA. And in case you wonder, yes, the business & ethics issues are tickling me everyday!
Interesting. Can you give a practical example of the kind of problem that "tickles" you ?
Well, advertising, for example, is the assumed art of generating a desire in people's mind by touching their feelings. Several points can be discussed here: first of all, the fact of creating a desire. The Stoics inheritate a certain amount of values from the Cynics. One of them, I think, would be to control your desires and passions. Therefore, it is quite difficult to try to apply it on you while doing the opposite on others. Secondly, creating this desire through emotions may also seem a little abusive. Stoicism is based on reason; if I wanted to promote a product or service, I would rather do it rationally: what are the uses, the advantages etc.
Do you happen to talk about these issues with the others in the same courses?
We do sometimes talk about it indeed, but not necessarily through the philosophy's spectrum. Ethic issues in business are even integrated as a specific course. Business and advertising are not evil in their essence, but as many things, they can become such if you misuse them. Therefore, it's up to us, students, to know how we are going to put in practice this knowledge we are getting.
Do you try to express these thoughts with Stoic words?
It usually is in the practice of Stoic exercises that I tend to talk about this philosophy. A certain kind of meditation, projecting myself in the future with a lot less than with what I have now (questionning myself : how I would handle it, etc.). Or in daily situations : traffic jams, small domestic accidents, and so on. From a very small event you can easily extrapolate to larger ideas. But the main problem with Stoicism is the cliché that it suffers from. Everybody think that a Stoic is someone with no feelings, which is quite hard to debunk wisely.
Some of the criticism I get from people reading about Stoicism on my advice is that it seems to be a selfish philosophy. Self improvement is of course at the center of Stoicism, but how can you help others if you are not self-confident ?
How do you envision your future in this line of work?
As far as I am concerned, I wish to work in a cultural field, organizing music festival and promoting artists would be ideal! Selling yogurt or cars is not my cup of tea, really.
What do you see as the future of Stoicism?
Stoicism may seem like a "dead" philosophy for most of the people. We really have to work on this, Stoicism is totally applicable in today's society ! That being said, I'm rather optimistic for the future as I read more and more mainstream articles about Stoicism. I think it's an eternal philosophy.
So what kind of action would you be ready to support or participate in, in order to make the philosophy more alive ?
We've mentioned together the internet, which is a tool that is really in touch with the youth. I would love to create or participate in creating a podcast, a talkshow, an online school or so! The good old talk with friends is of course not a mass media thing, but can also be effective!
If you had to promote Stoicism with an advertising campaign, which strategy would you choose? Do you think it is feasible at all to promote Stoicism through advertisement?
I think promoting a philosophy with an advertising campaign is a really interesting idea! I never though about it. It would have to be crystal-clear in order not to be confused with the propaganda some sects are doing. The campaign would take place mostly in written press and would be supported by "famous" intellectuals. But in order to do a campaign, you need a "product". A philospohy is not enough (well, it's more than enough), you need a concrete thing to point at, such as a Stoic School, a specific book, an exhibition, etc.
Do you consider yourself to be a Stoic?
I try as hard as I can to be one, but I understand the fact that saying "I'm a Stoic" in 2010 may sound a bit odd.
I usually say to people that I'm really interested in the Stoic philosophy. I wish I could say "I'm a Stoic", though !
What are the characteristics you think you should attain to call yourself a Stoic?
In my mind, being a Stoic is closely related to being a Sage. Which includes the practice of all Stoics principles. Therefore, I think I will always say something like "I'm on my way to be a Stoic". But maybe this vision will change, Christians call themselves like this and are not all saints!
What is the part of Stoicism that you regard as most valuable for you?
The difference made between things that are under your control, and those which are not. This notion really brought me to a higher state of a daily happiness. This is nothing about a pessimistic fatalism, but as Cleanthes says "Fate guides the willing, but drags the unwilling". To be guided by that fate is the way to become wise.
This sounds like the philosophy is a bit passive though. How do you consider the idea of fate and the idea of time ? Do you believe that fate is something that is already written from past to future, or that it builds itself in the present ?
For me, it's a little bit both. As a determinist, I believe things have a natural order that is vain to try to reverse. I wouldn't say it is a passive state, as it is quite hard to accept things how they are sometimes. I just saw a TV talkshow where a French man (Philippe Croizon), after burning himself with high-tension power, lost his legs and arms. After a few years of hard work and training he acheived to cross the english channel swimming ! He doesn't claim to be a Stoic, but I think he is one. This is pure active philosophy, and he really sounds happy when he talks.
The idea of time really changes from a era to another and from a culture to another. I like to read astronomy to know more about this subject (Stephen Hawking, for example), but from what I know, I would say that focusing on the present is really the big deal. Religious people have this fear, I think, of us being not immortal, they therefore try to avoid this fear by imagine a life after death and so on. What I like about Stoicism is that it really fits my idea of reality. Realizing that everything comes to an end (including us as individuals and the human kind) is not something sad!
Thanks a lot for these insights, Louis.
Charles Lévy, Nature et règles de vie dans le stoïcisme et le pyrrhonisme ↩
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