This is picking up from something in the comments from yesterday. There will be one more later today explaining why I was picking on Woody Allen.
A guy I'd known since high school went to to the same college as me. After his hometown honey dumped him in first year Doug got a new girlfriend. Sara was a staggering beautiful redhead with a taste for all sorts of things Doug's hometown girlfriend had denied him. She was also really intelligent, played piano and sang and was a brilliant conversationalist and socially successful. She was a keeper.
As often happens when your friends fall in love, I ended up having to deal with the new values she brought into his life. That was particularly relevant because Sara was a devoted follower of Ayn Rand.
Randians, for those not familiar with the philosophy, believe that everything we do is out of self interest.
I remember a conversation I had with Sara about some volunteer work I was doing helping teach basic literacy skills to adults. I made the mistake of saying that if feels good to be charitable. She pounced on that: "See it's all really about selfishness. You wouldn't have done it if it didn't feel good."
She wasn't crazy. I would not have done it if it didn't feel good. I don't think many of us would make charitable gestures if it didn't feel good. And yet it isn't true to say that we do these things purely out of self interest. If the good feeling that came from giving was the only reason that would be so but it isn't.
And we might ask where that good feeling comes from. If you really believed that charitable gestures were really just an act of self interest—if you really, really believed that—would you still get that good feeling?
Because it is the sense that we are doing something right and good that makes us feel good. It is the sense that that is making us a certain kind of person that we are working towards.
Of course, we can argue that that too is just self interest but only at the price of making words meaningless.