A while back commenter “steve” wrote:
…seems to me the question is what is behind Romney’s unusual generosity. Is it altruism or is it enlightened self-interest or is it also a bit of a compulsion?…Motivation matters.
Right there is fodder for several books on ethics, plus maybe anthropology. I’ve already thought about these questions in general (not specifically about Romney) long and hard. My answer is that no, it doesn’t matter. Good is good, and we are human beings whose motives are never pure.
So I don’t much care about your secret motives for doing good. I don’t much care if you want accolades for your good deeds and even if you receive them. I don’t care if you perform good works because you think it will get you into heaven, or that it will make your girlfriend like you better, or if you feel compelled to do good because you feel guilty if you don’t.
Yes, I suppose it’s on a higher moral plane if you do good simply because you love the good, and are completely uninterested in anything connected with yourself that might be considered a reward, even the reward of personal satisfaction. I suppose, but I’m not entirely sure. It seems to me that if altruism and enlightened self-interest happen to coincide, and if people have “a bit of a compulsion” to do good, so much the better.
We are all part of the whole, and if we help another, we are really helping ourselves, and that’s just fine with me. I’m with John Donne:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.