Lately I’ve been thinking about taxonomy of philosophical views, especially in the area of normative ethics.
Here’s a fragment of a common taxonomy of ethical theories. (This will be a bit rough; but the details aren’t important here.) To begin, we distinguish consequentialist from non-consequentialist views, according as they accept or reject the claim that we ought to maximise the good. Then, within the category consequentialist, we distinguish between utilitarian and non-utilitarian views, according as they accept or reject the claim that the good is overall wellbeing. Then, within the category utilitarian, we distinguish between henonistic and non-hedonistic views, according as they accept or reject the claim that wellbeing consists solely in pleasure. Then, within the category hedonistic, we distinguish between phenomenological and non-phenomenological views, according as they accept or reject the claim that pleasure is just a mental state with a particular phenomenology. And so on and so forth.
So, here’s what I’m wondering about. Can we go on like this forever, adding distinction after distinction without end? Or will we at some point find that we cannot distinguish any further? Will we eventually reach the “basic unit” of ethical theory? And if so, how will we know when we get there? What would be wrong with stopping at some more general level? Why not, say, simply distinguish consequentialism from non-consequentialism and leave it at that?