What is the Most Helpful Categorical Breakdown of Normative Ethics?

In gen­eral, I’ve seen philoso­phers “bucket” nor­ma­tive ethics into 3 pri­mary cat­e­gories:

  • Virtue Ethics: Em­pha­size moral character

  • Deon­tol­ogy: Em­pha­sizes du­ties or rules

  • Con­se­quen­tial­ism: Em­pha­sizes the con­se­quences of actions

See here or here.

How­ever, I would pre­fer to com­bine virtue ethics and de­on­tol­ogy to cre­ate a bi­nary dis­tinc­tion:

  • Means: Virtue Ethics and Deontology

  • Ends: Consequentialism

I’m not an ex­pert philoso­pher by any means (heh), but this makes more in­tu­itive sense to me. When we think about “how to do good”, the 1st clear ques­tion is “are you think­ing about your ac­tions (means) or the out­comes of those ac­tions (ends)?” For me, virtue ethics and de­on­tol­ogy are two ways to think about your ac­tions. i.e. Deon­tol­ogy—Do your ac­tions al­ign with some duty/​rule? Or Virtue Ethics—Do your ac­tions al­ign with some moral char­ac­ter traits?


  1. Is it ac­tu­ally true that philoso­phers (gen­er­ally) give the 3-cat­e­gory ver­sion over the 2-cat­e­gory ver­sion?

  2. What am I miss­ing about virtue ethics/​de­on­tol­ogy that im­plies I shouldn’t cat­e­go­rize them both into “means”?

  3. What­ever the an­swers to #1 and #2, what do you find to be the most helpful cat­e­gor­i­cal break­down of nor­ma­tive ethics?