A beginner’s guide to approaching Ethics – Part 1

To make a choice or to exercise freedom one does not need any specialisation in any discipline. YOU DON’T HAVE TO STUDY ETHICS , INTEGRITY & APTITUDE!!

This paper is unique. It is not just about “question-answer” as it happens in other GS papers and optional paper i.e. questions are asked for which there are well defined and well structured answers. Usually a candidate pours whatever he/she has mugged up.


But in this paper this is not the scenario. Here you have to take a “stand”. In simple terms you need to take a decision , a decision which you can justify. Best decision ( of course ethical decision)is that  which you can justify in front of:

  • Media
  • Your parents
  • Huge crowd
  • Or simply yourself when you are alone or having guts & courage to look directly into your own eyes in front of mirror.

Another misconception about this paper is that this paper is all about case studies i.e. just do case studies, theory part can be dealt in examination hall itself !!! But this is completely a wrong strategy. Actually as said earlier, in this paper  one has to take a stand , a stand which can be justified.

And this justification will come basically from theoretical portion i.e. values , philosophers ,psychology concepts ,moral thinkers/personalities , personal experience , etc. So until &  unless your theoretical portion is very strong , you can’t justify your decision/stand in case studies.


In fact you can’t differentiate between case studies and theory. In fact theory makes a strong foundation over which case studies approach has to be built upon. Hence, to deal this paper competitively  we need to understand strong inter-linkages between philosophy , psychology and governance.


Apart from all these , for complete appreciation of this paper we need to grasp some fundamental/basic issues of ethics (I am not talking of theories!!). In fact there are two basic issues ( one being “what ought to”) over which entire ethics is built on.

Actually, our life is governed by two set of factors –

  1. Circumstances
  2. Choice

Circumstances is one area where we can do nothing , there is no freedom , we cannot do anything e.g. situation , gender, society , etc in which we find ourselves in this world. Consequently, it has nothing to do with ethics. Just remember role of ethics begins only when there is freedom.


Second thing is “Choice” where one enjoys freedom. Hence, it is the domain of ethics. The kind of choice which we make defines our life & it governs our life – we enjoy , we suffer ,we repent , we feel proud , we face repercussions ,etc. Our life is all about our choices . In any situation , whatever, we have no options but to make choice. One of the existentialist thinker says ‘ Man is condemned to be free i.e. he has no choice but to make choice’.


Even if somebody says that he only follows his brother or parents or teacher , actually he is exercising his choice to follow. He could have very well denied. In one of the religious text “ Abraham decided to sacrifice his only son Isaac on the orders of God.” But don’t you think that it was his choice to obey God’s order.

Therefore – “ No choice but to make choice.”


Moment you make choice, here begins the domain of ethical examination and then question arises “whether such choice is right or wrong , good or bad , just or unjust, or simply ethical or unethical”.

To make a choice or to exercise freedom one does not need any specialisation in any discipline. YOU DON’T HAVE TO STUDY ETHICS , INTEGRITY & APTITUDE !!

An illiterate person in very remote village does make choice. Twenty two years back one person named Manjhi made a choice to cut a way through mountain !! You all are seeing a movie based on his life and simply appreciating his choice !! But he didn’t study GS IV. He acted what his conscience said to him, rest is the history ( great , awesome , unbelievable).

Now if ethics is all about choice then one question becomes obvious that what are the factors which governs our ability to decide ?


Let’s come back to those two factors in the other post. I would like to hear from your side on your views on Ethics. I will follow up with another post.

Take good care.

By Mitra Sir

Director @Mitra's IAS | Philosophy (Optional) & Ethics (GS IV)

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