A discussion at work recently involved our CEO (who has a psychology degree and is generally very knowledgable.. I have a lot of respect for his opinion) stating with great confidence that altruism is impossible, the argument being that an act of kindness is at the very least motivated by making oneself feel better by doing it. That makes an assumption that people are gratified by their act of kindness, but that's a different question. This is about the term itself.
The notion that we can't be kind without expecting reward didn't sit well with me, so I started thinking about it more, and realised I couldn't see past an apparent flaw in the concept.
First: definition. I'd understood it to mean an act of kindness for no reward. Google defines as: "disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others"
My CEO's argument appears to be that it's impossible because (effectively) the act of kindness is the reward, or at least that the feel-good-factor is directly linked to kindness, so there can be no kindness without feeling good. This seems to be generally accepted.
If that's the case, then my own definition phrase becomes "An act of kindness without kindness", which makes no sense.
Google's definition makes it even more clear: "disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others"
"disinterested concern" surely is a contradiction.
At that point, I find it difficult to think further on the subject. The only way I can see it working is if the act of kindness itself is discounted as a reward, in which case altruism becomes entirely possible.
So my question is: Is there an inherent contradiction in the notion of altruism? And if so, where does that leave the arguments about whether it's possible / impossible ?