UPSC Courses



Ethics paper provides an opportunity to score more than 120+. At the same time, if you make any mess in the paper, it can also backfire and you end up with a sub-par score, thereby, spoiling your chances of selection.

Therefore, from the exam point of view, it is important that you make a complete strategy of how to prepare for the ethics paper in UPSC. It might seem an easy paper to you given the simplicity of the terms but in reality, it is as tough as the other papers.

The paper on ethics for UPSC seeks to check the candidate’s basic understanding of topics like Code of Ethics, Code of Conduct, Work Culture and the ability to analyse and form views on various conflicting socio-economic issues.

We make Ethics easy for you with our Ethics Module and Mains Kunji for detailed understanding and better answer writing for Ethics Paper.

Ethics and Human Interface

The topic includes sub-topics of

  • Essence like Definition, purpose, significance and evolution of ethics as a subject.
  • Determinants like Macro Determinants, Micro Determinants, Morality, Will, Human Rights etc.
  • Consequences as in result as to the application of ethics and morality.
  • Dimensions of Ethics such as Public life, Private life, Bio-ethics, Environment Ethics, and Political ethics etc.
  • Ethics in private and public relationships, Public vs Private life and values and maintaining balance between both.

Sample question -

What is meant by ‘environmental ethics’? Why is it important to study? Discuss any one environmental issue from the viewpoint of environmental ethics. (2016).

Human Values

The topic of Human values include

  • Lessons from the lives of great leaders, thinkers, administrators like Buddha, Vivekananda, Kautilya, Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, etc.
  • Role of own family, society and school/college in inculcating the basic human values.


The topic deals with primarily with

  • Attitude – Content (Political, Moral, Social etc.), Structure (Affective, Cognitive etc.) and functions.
  • Influence that Attitude has on other factors and it’s relation with thought and behaviour.
  • Moral and political attitudes; how they are shaped and what influence do they have.
  • Role of Social influence and persuasion in shaping individuals attitude.

Sample question from 2017,

“Young people with ethical conduct are not willing to come forward to join active politics. Suggest steps to motivate them to come forward.”

Aptitude and Foundational Values for Civil Services

This topic concerns Civil services and the foundational values attached to it and required an understanding of topics such as Integrity, Impartiality, and non-partisanship, and objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker sections.

Other values have to be looked such as Perseverance, Diligence, Commitment and Neutrality. It also covers the area of competency framework for administration like ethos, equality and efficiency.

One must read the topics along with examples from real-life bureaucrats regularly featured in newspapers. One will get a good idea of the topic if we look at the questions asked in past years.

  • “Examine the relevance of the following in the context of civil service: (a) Transparency (b) Accountability (c) Fairness and justice (d) Courage of conviction (e) Spirit of service.” (2017)
  • “One of the tests of integrity is complete refusal to be compromised. Explain with reference to a real-life example.” (2017)

Emotional Intelligence

The topic concerns the topic of Emotional Intelligence which includes:

  • Definition and Significance.
  • Traits of Emotional Intelligent People (Empathy, Self-awareness, Social skills etc.)
  • Role of Emotional Intelligence in Administration, Business enterprises, Political system etc.

Questions asked are not very difficult and can be answered effectively if one is well acquainted with the topics mentioned

“How will you apply emotional intelligence in administrative practices?” (2017)

Moral Thinkers and Philosophers

This topic focuses on the contribution and significance of ideas of Moral Thinkers and Philosophers from India and the world in today’s socio-economic life, international affairs, administration management, public as well as private life.

The focus must be on:

  • Indian Philosophers and Moral Thinkers – Mahatma Gandhi, Kautilya, Buddha, Mahavira, Ashoka, Swami Vivekananda, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, etc.
  • World Philosophers and Moral Thinkers – Aristotle, Plato, John Rawls, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte, Max Weber, Nelson Mandela, etc.

Don’t go into details when reading about their thoughts and theories, just a plain reading with examples would do.

Sample question from 2017,

“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.” – Napoleon Bonaparte. Stating examples mention the rulers

  1. who have harmed society and country,
  2. Who worked for the development of society and country?” (2017)

Civil Services Values & Probity in Governance

This part is quite exhaustive and covers various dimensions on Ethics in Public Administration/Civil services values. It covers the following sub-topics:

  • Civil Service values/ethics in Public Administration
  • Status and Problems (Definition, Efficacy, Legality and issues such as Human Rights, Terrorism, Encounters etc.)
  • Ethical Concerns and Dilemmas in Government and Private Institutions (Transparency, Justice, Equality, Rule of Law, Fairness etc.)
  • Laws, Rules, Regulations (Natural Law, Law vs Ethics, Source and Moral authority of laws) and Conscience as a source of ethical guidance.
  • Accountability and Ethical Governance
  • Instruments of Accountability (Parliament, Media, RTI, Elections etc.)
  • Code of ethics and conduct, and Challenges and issues arising out of it.
  • Strengthening of ethical and moral values – Citizen Charter, RTI, Participatory Governance etc.
  • Ethical issues in International relations and Funding – issues like Competition among nations, existing inequality in the world, Environmental degradation, Terrorism andIndirect influence on nation’s internal matters.
  • Corporate Governance – Definition, Legal angle (Companies Act), Social angle, Corporate Social Responsibility, lacunae and loopholes vis a vis ethics.
  • Probity in Governance – Definition, requirements and principles.
  • The philosophical basis of governance and probity – Concept of the welfare state (Indian and Western views)
  • Information Sharing and Transparency in Government – Right to Information and E-Governance.
  • Work culture and related quality of service delivery.
  • Issue of Corruption (Definition, Causes, Institutions, Reforms and legal protections).

Sample question

  • “At the international level, the bilateral relations between most nations are governed on the policy of promoting one’s own national interest without any regard for the interest of other nations. This leads to conflicts and tensions between the nations. How can ethical consideration help resolve such tensions? Discuss with specific examples.” (2015)
  • “If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are father, the mother and the teacher.” – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. Analyse.”(2017)


Recommended books

  • ARC 4th report.
  • Ethics & You: A Broad Dimension by Ankit K. Agarwal & Bhargavi Allu.
  • Mains Kunji for Ethics
  • NCERT Psychology book Class XI & XII: Selected chapters.
  • Citizen Centric Administration – ARC Report.
  • Yojana editions- Good Governance, Inclusive Governance, Reforms in Public Administration.

Biographies & other books

  • Experiment with Truth – Mahatma Gandhi
  • VergheseKurien autobiography.
  • Swami Vivekananda – Karmayoga and his biography.
  • Selected articles by Immanuel Kant, Aristotle etc.
  • BBC website also on ethics.

Writing General Studies Paper IV Answers

  • The General Studies papers IV which is the Ethics paper, has a limit of 150, 200, or 300 words. This is a justified word limit given the time that you are given to answer a question. The trick here is to write sentences that are short.
  • Avoid compound sentences even though you may feel that by joining two sentences with an ‘and’ you have saved time and words. Instead use a semicolon to separate a sentence into clauses with each clause addressing a related but different idea or argument.
  • You can also break into bullets if the question is asking you to list down factors, causes etc.
  • 99% of the time the questions are opinion-based so, it is best to write the answers in paragraphs.
  • For open-ended questions like ‘Explain how ethics contributes to social and human well-being (CSE 2016)’ that have to be answered in 150 words, spare 30 seconds to figure out a framework for the answer. Once you have a vague idea that this is what your answer is going to be, sticking to the word limit becomes much easier.
  • When answering the case study questions avoid bringing unnecessary justifications to your ideas and arguments (instead, you can use a paradigm to justify an answer, for example, the paradigms of Rights-based approach, Justice based or Utilitarian approach etc.). State your ideas in a plain and simple manner, cite an example or two (or quotes) when necessary and make sure that you do not repeat the same thing in one or more paragraphs.
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