Eh, I'd probably disagree with you here, but that's because I'm very pessimistic when it comes to Don. I do agree that he has a barometer of right and wrong, but he really holds himself to his own standards. It's textbook sociopathy. None of the "selfless" things that Don does make him want to change for the better, long term. He almost broke out in the season where he started to swim and get healthy. I would actually argue that they exist as selfish reasons that Don uses to cope with how much he ruins people's lives. He had the chance to do something nice for Silvia and Dr. Rosen, but we all saw where that ended up.
I am a cynic.
im no doctor, but i more associate sociopathy with someone who is pure evil, devoid of any feelings, emotions, compassion or care and concern for anything or anyone, even for themselves, because they lack that ability in entirety. just 100% cold and dead inside of feeling.
either way, even if sociopath exists on a broader scope than that, i dont view don quite as a sociopath. split personality maybe, but even that is a stretch. i think he really falls squarely in the category of classical damaged goods. he had a super shitty upbringing. no dad, literally saw his mom turn into a prostitute, experienced his first sexual encounter very young, and from a prostitute no less. no real feeling there, just sex. amongst all the other crap i forgot about.
no dad leaves him without any father figure which is generally hard to recover from and can account for all kinds of issues if left un-dealt with, and the last thing don has ever done, is actually deal with his issues. his mom, the quintessential source of love and compassion did not give him what he needed and he saw her using her sexuality as simply a means to make money, added to his sex with the working girl, leads to his need to find someone to "mother" him and be there for him no matter what, and looking for that in all the wrong places, and his lack of associating any real meaning to sex.
he had a shitty life and he knew it. he saw the opportunity in the war to essentially become someone else, thinking that would solve all his problems, so he took it. understandably imo. in his becoming a new person, he found the confidence to be an alpha. but i think its all a very well played act that he HAS to maintain or he will break. but under that, is the old person, still there, still damaged, still needy and still undeveloped emotionally and psychologically. he knows that is there, and occasionally i think we see him make attempt to address that, but he cant/finds it too hard and painful. so it just sits there rotting inside him.
i dont think he tries to ruin anyones life, and in general, i think you can see sadness and regret when he causes things like that to happen, but he buries it and soldiers on. i think he is constantly trying to fix himself and nourish the part of him that is so shattered, but he has no idea how, so he leaves a wake or wreckage behind him all the time and has no idea how to fix that. so he ignores it, its the only way he knows. the thing with sylvia after he helped the kid was just him being unable to resist the need to gain her love, as he is in constant search for that.
when he does something good, i think its the part of him that knows what its like to be a shit stain that no one cares about, and he feels compassion. and that is why we find him helping the unfortunate from time to time. particularly for peggy and joan, in the area of a sexual issue/being taken advantage of. he knows how shitty that is and cant stand it. i dont think he trying appease himself/cope for all his wrongs, i think he is just tapping into the dick whitman in him and doing what is right when he can.
dont get me wrong, i think its no excuse for him to do what he does. he has free will, and i think he does a lot of shitty stuff and treats a lot of people like shit, but not because he is evil, because he is super fucked up. in a major way. he is very highly functioning, human mess.
wow. did i really just devote that much time to dissecting a fictional TV character? i think i did.