Despite centuries of effort, however, it is very challenging indeed to establish in practice a relatively standard or quasi-objective scale of pleasure and pain – physical and/or psychological – that we can thus neatly quantify in terms of utils for such a hedonic calculus. But everything in consequentialism turns on assigning relative weights to given consequences: without some sort of agreed-upon scale or table of utils to draw on, consequentialism is paralyzed at the outset.

Moreover, as we will see shortly, deontologists argue that some aspects of human existence cannot be assigned quantitative values: some things, some of us believe, are beyond measure. And, for such elements, both consequentialist approaches in general and utilitarianism in particular (again) have no ethical legs to stand on: without a universal and consistent schema of positive and negative utils with which to make our calculations, the arithmetic at the heart of consequentialism cannot proceed. Moreover, in this case, for the deontologist, a promise is a promise; it thereby entails a (near- )absolute obligation. Breaking a promise, however much pleasure the promise-breaker might get as a result of doing so (starting with opening the door to pizza and beer), is still wrong.

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(b)How far into the future must we consider? Ethicists distinguish between short-term and long-term consequentialists. In this example, a (really) short-term consequentialist would consider only the consequences of his or her acts over the next few hours. For most of us – at least, if we’re not allergic to gluten and if our religion or physiology does not forbid alcohol – pizza and beer with friends would generate more positive utils than studying for an exam (presuming, that is, that you really do not like the subject, etc.). By contrast, extending our timeframe by 24 hours might radically change our decision: whatever the positive utils of pizza and beer, they might well not outweigh the negative utils of letting down a friend and then watching as both of us do poorly in an important exam.