What is the Most Helpful Categorical Breakdown of Normative Ethics?

by rhys_lindmark 15th Aug 20187 comments


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?