I have heard all my life about self-denial. There never was anything more idiotic than that. No man who does right practices self-denial. To do right is the bud and blossom and fruit of wisdom. To do right should always be dictated by the highest possible selfishness and the most perfect generosity. No man practices self-denial unless he does wrong. To inflict an injury upon yourself is an act of self-denial. He who denies justice to another denies it to himself. To plant seeds that will forever bear the fruit of joy, is not an act of self-denial. So this idea of doing good to others only for their sake is absurd. You want to do it, not simply for their sake, but for your own; because a perfectly civilized man can never be perfectly happy while there is one unhappy being in this universe.
Let us take another step. The barbaric world was to be rewarded in some other world for acting sensibly in this. They were promised rewards in another world, if they would only have self- denial enough to be virtuous in this. If they would forego the pleasures of larceny and murder; if they would forego the thrill and bliss of meanness here, they would be rewarded hereafter for that self-denial. I have exactly the opposite idea. Do right, not to deny yourself, but because you love yourself and because you love others. Be generous, because it is better for you. Be just, because any other course is the suicide of the soul. Whoever does wrong plagues himself, and when he reaps that harvest, he will find that he was not practicing self-denial when he did right.
Robert Green Ingersoll – “A Lay Sermon” (1886)