Is there any point to attempting to better society, or is it better to live in self interest?

There is a point in trying to make society better: if you succeed, society will be better.

Is it better to live purely self-interestedly? It might be better for you. But that doesn't mean it would be better.

However, I assume that the point behind your question is why anyone should ever bother doing things that aren't just for their own benefit. If you're looking for an answer that appeals only to your self-interest, then the books are pretty well cooked. It could be that if we all do things for other people, we'll be better off ourselves, and sometimes it actually is true. But it's not guaranteed.

Ayn Rand argued (I've forgotten where exactly) that if we act altruistically by "sacrificing" our own interest for the interests of others, we've acted against what should be our own highest value. But either this is just a tautology (if I'm doing things that aren't for my own benefit, then I'm doing things that aren't for my own benefit) or else it's something there's no good reason to believe. (I would have said "bullshit," but that would have been unprofessional.)

Now there's a reason for doing things for others that might sound at first as though it's selfish at bottom: if I were in need of help, I'd hope that someone would help me. If I recognize that (how could I not?) and if I make the imaginative effort of putting myself in other people's shoes, that's at least sometimes enough to motivate me to do something that's not for my own benefit. But notice: even though thinking about how I'd like to be treated is part of what enters into my motivation, it's not a matter of doing things to make it more likely that other people will treat me kindly. It's a matter of taking seriously the idea that I'm not the only person that matters.

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