[Ethics: Mains] Morality of Economic Sanctions : International Ethics


Economic sanctions are particular type of tools in the statecraft to advance foreign policy goals of states. They are preferable to more coercive tools such as war. However, though they are useful instrument of statecraft but still their role and impact are morally ambiguous.

Usually they involve –

  1. Positive incentive ie. carrot , designed to induce or reward desirable behaviour. Reward might be in the form of increase in foreign aid, loans at concessional rates, preferential treatment, etc.
  2. Negative sanctions ie. stick , designed to punish state for undesirable behaviour. It could be in the form of reduction in aid, selected, quotas, curtailing or halting foreign investment ,ban on technology transfer, etc.


Why economic sanctions ?

Traditionally, states have used economic sanctions for variety of reasons, such as,

  1. Compliance : forcing a State to alter its behaviour
  2. Subversion : attempting to remove particular political leader or overthrow regime
  3. Deterrence : discouraging a State from carrying out unacceptable behaviour
  4. International symbolism : sending message to international community
  5. Domestic symbolism : seeking domestic support by harnessing popular sentiments


When they are effective ?

Are sanctions an effective foreign policy tool? Do they achieve desired behavioural outcomes? Many scholars and foreign policy experts doubt their effectiveness.

Scholars have found several factors that affect the economic impact of sanctions –

  1. Economic hardship is more likely to be achieved when sanctions are imposed multilaterally. Because most economic goods and services are highly fungible (i.e., can be replaced or substituted), broad participation, especially from the major powers, is normally a prerequisite for imposing the desired hardship on the target state.

For example

  • The importance of collective action was illustrated in 1990-1991 during the Persian Gulf crisis, when the United Nations imposed comprehensive economic sanctions against Iraq. Because nearly every country honoured the embargo, Iraq’s gross national product (GNP) declined by nearly 50 percent.
  • By contrast, the U.S. led economic embargo against Cuba has been ineffective because it was supported by few major states only.


  1. A second factor that affects economic success is the participation by non-governmental actors. Given the increasing influence of global corporations and significant NGOs, non-state actors can greatly reinforce and intensify sanctions.


For example,

In response to growing U.S. domestic opposition to South African apartheid, private actors encouraged private divestment and directly pressured American banks and corporations to dilute disinvestment programs.


  1. Domestic and bilateral factors can also greatly influence the impact. However , to have the greatest harm few conditions need to meet ,such as ,
  • Target state must be economically weak and politically unstable.
  • High level of economic interdependence
  • Imposition of sanctions quickly and decisively
  1. They are regarded as more useful tools when less demanding expectations are imposed.
  2. They are regarded as successful when they are used as punishment.

For example – economic sanctions against Haiti in 1991 ; Serbia in 1992 ; Darfur

  1. They are regarded as successful when they inhibit or delay the use of force. Because war is more destructive than economic sanctions , they are generally morally preferable moral tool of foreign policy to military conflict.


Are they really effective ?

The fundamental assumption of economic sanctions is that hardship will discourage unacceptable policies and encourage behavioural reform.

  • Although economic “sticks” can no doubt affect the behaviour of foreign actors, economic coercion alone is not decisive.
  • For one thing, foreign policy decision making is a multidimensional process that is subject to numerous domestic and international factors.
  • Inducing behavioural change is far more difficult against autocratic regimes—the governments most likely to be subjected to sanctions. Although highly punitive economic sanctions were being imposed on Iran in 2012, there was little evidence that its autocratic government was likely to alter its nuclear enrichment program.
  • According to one comprehensive study, economic sanctions during the 1914—1990 period were successful in bringing about desired reforms in about one-third of the cases. However, another scholar, using the same data, argues that the success rate is less than 5 percent!
  • Regardless of whether one accepts the optimistic or pessimistic measures of political success, it is clear that economic hardship does not often achieve the desired political outcomes.

But perhaps sanctions should be viewed as part of a state’s overall repertoire for communicating interests and exercising international influence.


Morality of sanctions 

  • According to some thinkers sanctions are indeed a form of violence.
  • Many thinkers says that they are morally dubious.
  • One of the most influential anti-apartheid activist highlighted the morally problematic nature of economic sanctions because they imposed great hardship on poor blacks.
  • For assessing the morality of economic sanctions some ethicist have suggested certain criteria on the basis of we can evaluate their moral standards, such as , ( just sanctions theory )


  1. Just cause
  • Promoting peace
  • Protecting human rights and human dignity
  1. Right intention
  • They are not justified to increase national power and extend economic influence
  1. Limited objective
  • Targeting only those behaviour and institutions which are unjust
  1. Last resort
  • Only when peaceful negotiation have been exhausted
  1. Probability of success
  2. Discrimination
  • They must not target innocent people
  • Must target government and those who are supporting
  • It is the most important yet most morally challenging principle because most of the sanctions were unable to fulfill this criteria. When comprehensive sanctions were imposed the hardship typically falls disproportionately on poor people.


For example – when comprehensive sanctions were imposed on Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in 1990, great suffering fell on innocent people. It is estimated that these sanctions over 12 years had caused the death of at half a million children , though UN in 1996 UN had instituted an Oil-for-Food Program to relieve Iraq’s humanitarian crisis.

  1. Proportionality
  • The good intended from sanctions must be proportional to the harm inflicted on the target state.
  • Thus above mentioned criteria are useful in assessing whether any economic sanctions imposed by State is morally right or questionable.
  • Economic tools in the form of sanctions continue to be important tool in the foreign policy. Their importance is further enhanced by the fact that they are preferable to war because war is more destructive.
  • But still they are morally problematic not only because they rarely achieve desired political results but also they impose great hardships on innocent civilians.


[Mains 2016] International ethics: Role of traditions & strategies in decision making


Dear students,

Note the following points before you deep dive into the main article:

* Only once question was asked on international ethics in previous years.
* Question is expected on this particular topic in this year

* Important areas from where question could be asked are

1. Morality of economic sanctions
2. Justification of war
3. Drone attacks
4. Human rights

Ethical traditions play an indispensable role in international relations. Although ethical traditions & perspectives vary greatly in terms of the nature and relevance in global politics, they play an important role in the conduct of foreign relations, providing ethical road maps to decision makers. Thus, when statesman develop and implement foreign policies, they utilise particular ethical frameworks that establish the parameters within which issues are debated and decided.

In a world in which moral values are being increasingly neglected, undermined or misused, traditions provides structure for identifying and applying moral norms to international relations. By illuminating widely shared moral values ethics traditions help guide individual and collective political action thereby contributing to the development of humane foreign policies and just international structures.

Ethical traditions also provide the moral architecture necessary to critique and assess the foreign policy behaviour of states and the international structures of global society. Ethical traditions are not self validating. As a result the plurality of traditions requires that the competing and conflicting claims of different traditions be examined with care and reconciled when possible.

In fact ethical traditions refers to a system of substantive moral rules and normative principles that have been passed along from generation to generation and that have been recognised as imposing binding obligations, achieving authority that is something equivalent to the “force of law”. All the traditions are based on a variety of sources including religion, political consent, law and culture widespread customary practice is essential in the development of a tradition.Indeed traditions’ authority is a direct by product of the extent to which its values, practices and customs has been institutionalized.

Although many traditions have guided modern international politics but there has been 3 most important traditions which have influenced International politics and Foreign Policy realism, idealism and principled realism.

#1. Realism

It is one of the oldest tradition.

Important elements are –

  • Realist assume that human nature is motivated mainly by self interest. Individuals and groups tends to see their own interest first at the expense of the interest of others.
  • In developing political order realist believe that political action should always be guided by how human beings are likely to behave rather than on how they ought to behave. They hold a pessimistic view of human nature, they believe that development of order and just in the anarchic global community can be advanced through policies based on power.


  • They assume that peace is a by product of international balance of power, that is only by balancing and counterbalancing the power of other states can a state contribute to global order and establish the preconditions for international justice.


  • realism emphasizes power , that politics is an essentially struggle of power


  • realism is characterized by its state centric approach.


  • realism assumes that the international community is a decentralized anarchic environment, that is, a self help system. Such a system is the one in which those who do not help themselves or who do less effectively than others will fail to prosper and they will lay themselves open to dangers and finally they will suffer.


Because there is no common authority in the world each states’ survival and well-being ultimately depends on its own capabilities and resources. Realist assumed that military force is the most important. The States seek to deter aggression by expanding the military resources and establishing alliances.


  • finally realim is characterized by its reliance on consequential ethics. Realism is often criticised as being an amoral approach to International politics because power is regarded as the main instrument of foreign policy and national security as its principle end.


E.g. US intervention in Grenada

#2. Idealism

Core features


  • Political idealism is optimistic about political life including the establishment and maintenance of a just international order. For most idealist this optimistic view of international affairs is rooted in a benign view of human nature. Idealism have faith in the long-term benevolent of human nature believing that human nature will eventually express its true interest in peace and a thoroughly reformed International system. Because human beings are fundamentally good the evil and injustice in the world is due largely to the unjust and imperfect political and economic structures of global society.


  • A distinctive feature of idealism is the important role assigned to moral values in defining foreign policy interest and strategies. Where is realism struggle for power leaves little room for moral judgement in Foreign Affairs,Idealism emphasizes moral norms in developing and implementing foreign policy. Moreover to the extent that realist to make room for Ethical judgement in international relations, they do so through a consequentialist strategy. Idealist, by contrast, emphasize rule-based ethics, seeking to ensure that the goals, intentions, outcomes are consistent with common morality.


  • Idealism give priority to human rights and to the constitutional structures essential to protecting these rights. Because the ideaist tradition is rooted in liberalism, individual rights, human dignity and political freedom are primary.


  • Finally, they give priority to international law and transnational organisations. Wherease realism emphasizes the balance of power in promoting international order, idealist believe that law and international structures – especially regimes and International Governmental and non governmental organisations -can contribute decisively to the development of global corporation and World order.


E.g.    US President Jimmy Carter’s human rights policy

Panchsheel in India’s foreign policy

#3. Principled Realism

Core features –


  • Principled realism combines with the moral values of idealism and the power politics of realism, it is based on elements of both utopia and reality.


  • principled realism integrates political morality with the responsible use of power. Like real- ism, this tradition regards the world as an anarchic community where power is necessary to secure and protect vital interest. Moreover, principled realism is sceptical of the role of global institutions in maintaining global order, promoting human rights and protecting global commons.


  • unlike realism, however, this perspective assume that the quality of domestic politics will shape Global order. More specifically, it assumes that domestic Institutions like the rule of law, constitutional Government and human rights will influence not only foreign policy but also the nature of global politics.


  • principled realist believe that foreign policy decisions necessarily entails moral values both in defining interest and in devising strategies to pursue them. Whereas realist emphasis security above all else ,principled realist recognise that other moral values, including Liberty ,human rights and protection of global commons, must also have priority in public affairs.


  • since foreign policy involves competing and conflicting interest and goals, Statesman must device policies that have the greatest prospect of advancing the national and global welfare. Pursuing foreign policy from a principled realist perspective will necessitates both wisdom and courage, that is, wisdom to choose among competing values and interest and courage to reconcile moral ideals with power.


  • The principled realist tradition is well illustrated in the American foreign policy of Ronald Reagan. His approach is captured by the so-called Reagan Doctrine, which sought to advance the cause of human freedom by supporting fragile democratic governments while undermining expansionist communist regimes. For example, to combat the Marxist Revolutionary insurgency in El Salvador the Reagan administration provided significant political and economic resources to support the country’s fragile democratic government, at the same time the US government provided significant covered military covert to undermine the Revolutionary influence.


  • In contemporary times many scholars advanced tradition of principled realism. In this two strands have been specially noteworthy –


  • the first empahizing the global expansion of democracy and human rights and
  • the other emphasising a more constraint, prudential use of power in advancing moral ideals.


Example of Principled Realism : Bush doctrine in post 9/11 – war on terror

Ethical Strategies

Ethics is defined as the identification, interpretation and application of moral principles to specific issues or problems. In carrying out this task in the political sphere, the Statesman and political thinkers rely on distinct traditions and strategies.


Ethical traditions provide substantive framework that structure moral reasoning and action. Apart from ethical traditions there is also role of ethical strategies that offer alternative methodologies to decision making based on different emphasis being given to goals, means and consequences.


Unlike ethical traditions which provide a normative structure of rules and principles that are regarded as authoritative,ethical strategies are mainly methodological tools for guiding decision making . Both ethical traditions and ethical strategies are important in international relations because they provide perspectives, approaches and tools by which political morality is applied to thought and action in global society.

#1. End based action


  • This approach is also known as consequentialism or teleological ethics.
  • It assumes that the morality of the action must be ultimately judged by the good results that are realised.
  • In contrast to rule based action which assumes that the morality of the decisions should be judged by the faithfulness with which moral rules are applied, consequentialism believes that the most important moral criterion is the overall outcome.
  • Political actions typically involve three distinct elements that is goals or intentions ,means and results. Although all three elements are incorporated into end based thinking, the consequences of human choices are given priority.
  • Moral legitimacy of an action ultimately depends on its consequences .Policies involving questionable means or even morally ambiguous goals ,maybe morally permissible if outcomes are beneficial.

For example :

In October 1983 US military forces intervened in Grenada toppling its Marxist Revolutionary government. Although the intervention was legally dubious and morally questionable the action was ultimately deemed just because

  • it restored public order on the island,
  • it reestablished the basis for electoral democracy.
  • Most significantly and overwhelming majority of the Grenadines expressed their approval of US military action.


Thus, from end based perspective ,the US military intervention was morally justified by its beneficial outcomes -that is, the protection of human life, the establishment of civic order and the restoration of democracy.


  • One of the major phlilosophical expressions of end based thinking is utilitarianism, a doctrine that assumes that individual and collective action should be judged mainly by their utility or results. The task of government is thus to establish policies that maximizes collective pleasure and minimise collective pain. It can be summed up in a utilitarian principle or formula that the” greatest good for the greatest number”.


  • More recently, political philosophers have distinguished between two types of utilitarianism– rule utilitarianism and act utilitarianism.


  1. Rule utilitarianism applies the principle of utility to rules and procedures ,holding that such norms derive their ethical legitimacy from their procedural utility ,that is , rule utilitarianism judges the inherent usefulness of policies and structures in terms of their consequences.
  2. However, by contrast, act utilitarianism applies the utility criterion to particular actions holding that the moral legitimacy of decision must be based on the extent to which overall good is maximized in each particular circumstances. Political action is based on act utilitarianism are thus judged in terms of their anticipated results.


One of the example of end based strategy is “ ethics of nuclear deterrence

#2. Rule based action


  • It is also known as the deontological thinking, it asserts that action should be judged by their inherent rightness and validity but not by the goodness of badness of policy outcomes.
  • It place a premium on duty and right intention, not the results of decisions.
  • Thus this approach and methodology appeals to the goodness of policy themselves, not to their effects.As a result, ethical decision making is determined mainly by the morality of goals and intentions. Decisions that disregard moral obligations or utilise morally questionable means themselves immoral even if desirable outcomes are achieved.
  • for example , from a deontological perspective the fire bombing of Tokyo carried out by the allies to defeat Germany and Japan is regarded as a immoral because civillians were part of the intended targets of those raids.

However, how can a Statesman or political decision maker know what his or her ethical duties are? How are goals and methods to be determined to ensure ethical actions ?

In this regard Kant, the 18 century German philosopher and father of rule based analysis, argues that the rightness of a rule or action should be based on the categorical imperative. This principle has to key dimensions –

  1. person should be treated as having value themselves that is Principal of retreating humanity as an end- in-itself.
  2. individual should act in accordance with principles or maxims that can be universalised. In other words, ethical decision making should be judged on the basis of the extent to which a principal should be applied to others.
  3. how can person discover which moral principles should guide their behaviour? According to Kant reason is the faculty by which norms can be discovered and applied.


  • All the political actions based solely on moral obligations are rare, rule-based action is nonetheless undertaken periodically in global society by states and other international non state actors in fulfillment of perceived the moral duties.

for example –

  • from the cold war era, Western democratic countries provided significant economic assistance to developing nations, in great part because of the conviction that economically prosperous states had a moral obligation to assist poor people. They are inspired by the sense of justice and compassion .
  • This sense of global compassion for the poor was evident at the G8 economic Summit 2007 where leading economic promised to give Africa 60 million dollar in economic assistance.
  • the international responsibility of responding to human need was most vividly evident when the United States give food Aid to North Korea, a communist enemy state. When famine broke out in this oppressive and reclusive state ,the US government nevertheless responded to human need by giving substantial food stuffs to relieve starvation.

Famine Relief for Soviet Russia

Previous Years’ Trend Analysis of Ethics (GS4) Paper in IAS Mains

Hello everyone,

As I have always maintained, ethics is all about choice. To make choice one need not to have any specialized training or degree. All the time we all, irrespective of our educational background, make choices. But yes, if we practice ethical reasoning or read some theories, definitely we will be in a better position to make sensible choices.

As far as exam is concerned some conclusions drawn on the basis of previous years’ questions are –

#1. Ever since this paper has been introduced it has been proved to be a crucial factor in the success. On an average candidates are getting 90-100 marks. However, many candidates have even crossed 130. It is the only paper where aspirants are getting such marks.

#2. Another aspect of reality is that majority of candidates are in the bracket of 90-100. Or repeatedly get more or less same marks. Main reason behind this is mechanical preparation i.e

inter linkages between topic; correlating with contemporary issues ; examples; an ecosystem of philosophy,psychology, public administration, etc are missing.

For example: There was a question – “The current society is plagued with widespread trust-deficit. What are the consequences”

Now to handle this type of question one must know what is public trust, it’s importance , why it is declining, is it global phenomena, etc. But in syllabus nowhere is mentioned Public Trust. Neither any book has mentioned. To catch such topics one need to go to peripheral areas.

#3. On analysis of syllabus it is found that direct questions from syllabus are very few. Rather, they are more from peripheral areas. Hence, it is utmost necessary to minutely analyse the syllabus, understand themes, read in between lines, background of topics mentioned, and knowing exactly the purpose of introducing this paper. On doing this things becomes very easy.

#4. It is also required to reorder syllabus because if you prepare topics in sequential fashion as mentioned in syllabus, right from top to bottom, then definitely you will be very far away from the actual demand of this paper. Answers will not be organic, rather they will be too mechanical. Most of the candidates do this, hence they are not able to go beyond 100 marks.

#5. It is because of this no text book helps. Though there is now number of books in the market but it is doubtful if there is any which fulfills the purpose. It is highly advisable to understand things in holistic perspective.

#6. As far as case studies are concerned there are again many myths and people simply run after case studies, ignoring theory. But, think rationally. Case studies just can’t be different from theories. You can’t prepare cases in isolation. They are in fact organically linked. More strong you become in theory part, better your answer will be in case studies.

#7. Though there is no standard format for solving cases but generally one should follow certain guidelines, such as,

– Analyse case very carefully
– Catch issues involved irrespective of questions asked
– Stakeholders
– Effectively and organically use of terminologies

Analysis/Trend of questions

* Different types of questions
* All questions demand holistic/organic answers
* Examples are the heart & soul of this paper. Examples could as varied as – contemporary, historical, mythological, religious, personal experience based.

Each of the following questions is worth 10 marks and 150 words.

I. Personal Experience or Opinion Based

* No specialized reading is required
* Based on your logical thinking
* Basically meant to check your ethical sensitivity, moral compass, mental calibre & constructive thinking and ability to correlate things .
* Thoughtful reading of newspaper will be sufficient

Q. Some people feel that values keep changing with time and situation, while others strongly believe that there are certain universal and eternal human values. Give your perception in this regard with due justification.(2013)

* Values are those which have worth
* Hierarchy of values is more important than talking Absolute or relative values
* Values changes with time. Precisely it means depending on situation we need to make hierarchy of values according to their priority. In some situation truth is the most important while in some human life becomes most precious.

Q.What do you understand by the term ‘voice of conscience’? How do you prepare yourself to heed to the voice of conscience? (2013)

Q. What is meant by ‘crisis of conscience’? Narrate one incident in your life when you were faced with such a crisis and how you resolved the same.(2013)

* Peripheral area

Q.All human beings aspire for happiness. Do you agree? What does happiness mean to you? Explain with examples. (2014)

* Not directly from syllabus, mainly from peripheral areas
* ethics deals with summum bonum of human life i.e supreme aim of life , for example, Indian philosophy aims at Moksh. For that science of morality comes into the picture.
* For some happiness is that summum bonum
*Aristotle equates with Eudemonia i.e happiness, flourishing human life, self contentment, doing things with perseverance
* Your personal understanding about happiness ; it could be anything
* Supporting with examples

Q.In the context of defence services, ‘patriotism’ demands readiness to even lay down one’s life in protecting the nation. According to you, what does patriotism imply in everyday civil life? Explain with illustrations and justify your answer. (2014)

*Newspaper will suffice
* Constructive contribution to the nation building
*Playing one’s part/role in the society
* Absence of free rider problem
*Trustee but not owners of resources
* Different examples

Q.Which eminent personality has inspired you the most in the context of ethical conduct in life? Give the gist of his/her teachings giving specific examples, describe how you have been able to apply these teachings for your own ethical development. (2014)

Q. The current society is plagued with widespread trust-deficit. What are the consequences of this situation for personal well-being and for societal well-being? What can you do at the personal level to make yourself trustworthy? (2014)

* Again not directly mentioned in the syllabus
* But if one had analysed syllabus properly then one can easily catch that without understanding importance of public trust and it’s decline in present times you can cannot appreciate this paper

II. Terminology based

* Such questions can be prepared over period of time by making list of terminologies
* Along with definition these terms should be seen holistically and more in terms of their applied part
* Your answer will be hollow if it is not supported by appropriate examples

Q.What do you understand by ‘values’ and ‘ethics’? In what way is it important to be ethical along with being professionally competent? (2013)

* First part of the question can be best captured by statement of Duryodhan to Krishna in Mahabharat —
“I know dharma but it fails to inspire me, I know adharam also but I fail to withdraw from it.”
* That is, it not merely enough to know what is right & what is wrong

Q.What do you understand by the following terms in the context of public service? (2013)
Spirit of service
Courage of conviction


Q.What is ’emotional intelligence’ and how can it be developed in people? How does it help an individual in taking ethical decisions? (2013)
* Direct from syllabus


Q.What does ethics seek to promote in human life? Why is it all the more important in public administration? (2014)
* Summum bonum
* For some it is happiness, while some says pleasure, some says it is “greatest good of greatest number”
*In public administration it seeks ethical governance. It is not merely good governance.


Q. What in meant by ‘environmental ethics? Why is it important to study? Discuss any one environmental issue from the viewpoint of environmental ethics. 

* Based on basic understanding of ethics
* Rest can be dealt with current environmental issues and sustainable development

Q.Differentiate between the following (2015)
Law and Ethics
Ethical management and Management of ethics
Discrimination and Preferential treatment
Personal ethics and Professional ethics


Q.Two different kinds of attitudes exhibited by public servants towards their work have been identified as bureaucratic attitude and the democratic attitude. (2015)
Distinguish between these two terms and write their merits and demerits.
Is it possible to balance the two too create a better administration for the faster development of our country?


Q. “A mere compliance with law is not enough, the public servant also have to have a well developed sensibility to ethical issues for effective discharge of duties” Do you agree? Explain with the help of two examples where (i) an act is ethically right, but not legally and (ii) an act is legally right, but not ethically. (2015)

* This question is based on ” ethical illiteracy ”

Q.How do the virtues of trustworthiness and fortitude get manifested in public service? Explain with examples. (2015)

III. Proverbs or Quotes

* Though they are thinker based but one should not just confine to thinker only
* One should be able understand the real significance, reading in between lines
* No need to prepare separately, answer lies in the quote only
* Must be substantiated with examples

Given below are three quotations of great moral thinkers/philosophers. For each of these quotations, bring out what it means to you in the present context: (2013)

1.“There is enough on this earth for every one’s need but for no one’s greed.” Mahatma Gandhi.

* Can be correlated with Plato’s theory of justice & appetite problem
* Can also be related with “Golden Mean” of Aristotle

2. “Nearly all men can withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”—Abraham Lincoln

3.“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who overcomes his enemies.”—Aristotle

4.“The good of an individual is contained in the good of all.” What do you understand by this statement? How can this principle be implemented in public life? (2013)


Q. It is often said that ‘politics’ and ‘ethics’ do not go together. What is your opinion in this regard? Justify your answer with illustrations. (2013)

Q.“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, but knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” What do you understand by this statement? Explain your stand with illustrations from the modern context. (2014)

* Can be illustrated with the help of 4 themes —
1. High values & low skills
2. High values & high skills
3. Low values & low skills
4. Low skills & low values

Q.“Human beings should always be treated as ‘ends’ in themselves and never as merely `means’.” Explain the meaning and significance of this statement, giving its implications in the modern techno-economic society. (2014)

* It is based on Humanism philosophy
* In fact humanism is the core of this paper. Many questions including case studies can be well attempted if you have proper understanding of humanism

Q.Given are two quotations of moral thinkers/philosophers. For each of these, bring out what it means to you in the present context (2015)

1.“The weak can never forgive; forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.’

2.‘We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.’

IV. Economy and Environment Related

Q.Social values are more important than economic values. Discuss the above statement with examples in the context of inclusive growth of a nation. (2015, can be fit into Social Issues as well)

V. Corruption Related

Q.It is often said that poverty leads to corruption. However, there is no dearth of instances where affluent and powerful people indulge in corruption in a big way. What are the basic causes of corruption among people? Support your answer with examples. (2014)

* Need based & Greed based
* Appetite / grabbing mentality

Q.Today we find that in-spite of various measures of prescribing codes of conduct, setting up vigilance cells/commissions, RTI, active media and strengthening of legal mechanism, corrupt practices are not coming under control.

Evaluate the effectiveness of these measures with justifications.
Suggest more effective strategies to tackle this menace.

Q. What do you understand by ‘probity’ in public life? What are the difficulties in practicing it in the present times? How can these difficulties be overcome? (2014)

* Direct from syllabus
* Can be prepared in advance
*Should be supported by current examples

Q.Public servants are likely to confront with the issues of “Conflict of Interest”. What do you understand by the term “Conflict of Interest” and how does it manifest in the decision making by public servants? If faced with the conflict of interest situation how would you resolve it? Explain with the help of examples.(2015)

VI. Social Issues

Q.What factors affect the formation of a person’s attitude towards social problems? In our society, contrasting attitudes are prevalent about many social problems. What contrasting attitudes do you notice about the caste system in our society? How do you explain the existence of these contrasting attitudes? (2014)

Q.We are witnessing increasing instances of sexual violence against women in the country. Despite existing legal provisions against it, the number of such incidences is on the rise. Suggest some innovative measures to tackle this menace. (2014)

VII. Current Governance Pattern/International ethics

Q.Some recent developments such as introduction of RTI Act, media and judicial activism, etc. are proving helpful in bringing about greater transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government. However, it is also being observed that at times the mechanisms are misused. Another negative effect is that the officers are now afraid to take prompt decisions. Analyse the situation in detail and suggest how the dichotomy can be resolved. Suggest how these negative impacts can be minimised. (2015)

Q. At the international level, 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 lead to conflicts and tension between the nations. How can ethical consideration help resolve such tensions? Discuss with specific examples.(2015)

*Broadly three moral traditions prevail in international ethics —
1. Realism
– based on power; solely concerned with one’s own interest e.g US interference in Grenede
2. Idealism
– based on values e.g Human Rights, US help to former USSR during famine
3. Principled Realism
– combination of both power politics & values e.g post 9/11 : war on terror

Q.There is a heavy ethical responsibility on the public servants because they occupy positions of power, handle huge amounts of public funds, and their decisions have wide-ranging impact on society and environment. What steps have you taken to improve your ethical competence to handle such responsibility? (2014)

* Need to develop holistic competence

Q.What does ‘accountability’ mean in the context of public service? What measures can be adopted to ensure individual and collective accountability of public servants? (2014)

Ethical Dilemma of a Lieutenant in a Military Organisation

Picking up an important question from our last pop quiz on Ethics – GS Paper4. Since no one attempted this question, I would like you to give it another chance.

I wish to bring forth an interesting set of dilemma and theory on the Paper 4 via this question. Do give it a shot.


#2. You are first lieutenant in a military organisation. You report to captain who in turn reports to Major. You share positive working relation with both.

In your office there arises vacancy of a supervisor. In this regard both of your officers encourage you to appoint a particular person from other department. However you are not impressed with that person and found that person unsuitable for the post. In-spite of this you decided to trust your seniors and appoint him.

After one month it is clear to you that your judgement was correct that this person is not competitive enough. Although given time he can improve and develop his skills.

However very soon situation has become very complicated New supervisor has developed misunderstanding with the Captain and now the Major and the Captain are sending conflicting signals. Captain suggests that you immediately transfer supervisor during his probation period while Major urged you to write an early highly positive evaluation for him even before prescribed three months.

Q1. Examine the major issues involved.

Q2. Trace your course of action.

General Guidelines to Solve Ethics Case Studies for IAS Mains


It is very heartening to see your students attempt the 3 case questions put forward on this platform. I have to admit many of you have been very meticulous in your answers and even I learnt a thing or two reading them. However, I feel that I should lay forward some basic guidelines on answer writing format which will help you secure most marks in solving Ethics Case Studies for IAS Mains.


#1. Make use of value based terminologies as much as possible

It will make your answer subject specific i.e. ethics, integrity & aptitude based rather than merely a generalist or public administration heavy opinion. Remember that your optionals might help you to get a feel of the question but your answer has to be relevant to the Ethics paper at hand.

e.g: professional integrity, conscience, Nishkam Karma, ethical competencies, ethical reasoning, ethical illiteracy, obligations, intellectual integrity, empathy, compassion & tolerance, dignity of an individual, etc.

#2. Understand basic difference between ethical decision and legal decision

Majority of the Public servants/ Managers world over suffer from “ethical illiteracy” i.e. they consider that their legal decision is ethical decision. But if it indeed were so then what is the need to talk about ethical decision. (just ponder!!!)

But that does not mean that one has to become a lawbreaker. Yet one has to come out with some “out of box” solution. However, if you do then you have to face ire of your seniors. But that’s invariable part of ethical decision. Hence, be ready for dire personal consequences !!!( food for thought)

#3. Make use of ethical reasoning/ moral imagination

Immediately sketch whole of case as a movie in your mind placing yourself as one of the character.

#4. Based on ethical reasoning/moral imagination raise questions

#4.1. Are there any ethical issues?

#4.2. If yes , what are they? Enumerate them. For example – 

In the Case 1 of our first problem statement on Ethics, ethical concerns involved are : ” breach of professional integrity , trust, conflict of interest, health hazard, image of organization, appearance of unethical act,leadership, emotional competencies, etc.”

#4.3. What to do next? Explore different alternatives/options available:

  • This is very significant stage in solving problem. More you explore options better will be your decision.
  • For each option think of probable consequences – negative as well as positive.
  • Never give alternatives without exploring probable consequences.

For example, in the first case –

  1. Stop her to see Raj
    1. She might resign
    2. Work progress might get delayed
    3. I might lose very competent & honest team member so maybe transfer her?
  2. Transfer her
    1. She might take it as punishment
    2. A wrong message of “lack of trust” might demoralise others
    3. Delaying Work
  3. Trust her to do her job 
    1. If later on your boss discovers or leaked to media then you will be blamed
      Informing your boss
  4. Informing your boss
    1. He might take a biased decision
  5. Transfer & Promote her
    1. Recently this is what happened with Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria in Mumbai. It was taken as a punishment in spite of a promotion!

#4.4. Choose best option according to you and justify your stand

Yes, it also had negative consequences but make an attempt to minimise. Ethical decision is not cake walk. It carries with itself dire consequences for oneself. Be ready for that! At this step , to justify your decision you can take help of moral philosophers, moral principles like justice, rights, common good, ethical approaches like duty based , virtue based or utilitarianism.

Best decision is that which enhances your self esteem, that which makes you to look directly into your eyes when you see yourself in the mirror and finally that which gives you sound sleep!

Hope this helped you in getting a better hang at solving Ethics Case studies. I will try to put in more in the coming weeks.

GS Paper 4: Ethics Case Studies #1


#1. Consider you are a director of a regulatory agency that is charged with monitoring the probable harmful effects of commercial chemicals. Your junior officer Ms. Smriti is responsible for monitoring the use and probable effect of chemicals. She has been assigned to determine whether such chemicals should be removed from market.

In one of the official meetings Ms. Smriti met a person named Mr. Raj who is representative of some chemical company. In due course of time Ms. Smriti got into relationship with Mr. Raj.Ms. Smriti wanted to pursue the relationship while maintaining professional integrity.

Q1. Explore various options available to you.

Q2. What will you do?


#2. You are first lieutenant in a military organisation. You report to captain who in turn reports to Major. You share positive working relation with both.

In your office there arises vacancy of a supervisor. In this regard both of your officers encourage you to appoint a particular person from other department. However you are not impressed with that person and found that person unsuitable for the post. In-spite of this you decided to trust your seniors and appoint him.

After one month it is clear to you that your judgement was correct that this person is not competitive enough. Although given time he can improve and develop his skills.

However very soon situation has become very complicated New supervisor has developed misunderstanding with the Captain and now the Major and the Captain are sending conflicting signals. Captain suggests that you immediately transfer supervisor during his probation period while Major urged you to write an early highly positive evaluation for him even before prescribed three months.

Q1. Examine the major issues involved.

Q2. Trace your course of action.


#3. Shantanu has been appointed as the chief sanitary officer at district level. Recently, a village under his district has been awarded Nirmal Gram Puruskar for achieving the status of “Open Defecation Free Area”. This was possible due to the state sponsored scheme where each house was provided with a separate toilet and various initiatives which were taken at the Panchayat level.

However, Shantanu notice that after few months, many villagers have started using the toilets as storerooms and are now defecating in open. Despite of huge investments, nothing has changed.

What shall Shantanu do in such situation? Explore various options.

A beginner’s guide to approaching Ethics – Part 2

Thank you students for appreciating the thoughts. It is imperative that in current day and age we work out to mitigate the fears of GS and lay down and approach which works best and is all inclusive.

Moving on with the two factors which I mentioned before –

I. External factors:

  • Natural Law

It is a belief that every thing in this world is meant to fullfil certain purpose. Anything which disrupts this teleology then it will be considered as unethical. e.g same sex marriages

According to critics it is “unnatural” because they say that sexual intercourse is meant for new life i.e. for child. Hence, they denounce use of contraceptives , abortion, etc.

But at the same time we know it for sure that many societies/countries have legalised same sex marriages. Why ? Just think.

  • Consequences Based

In this approach it is the result which influences our choice/decisions. Formula being “ greatest good of the greatest number” (Utilitarianism).

II. Internal factors:

  • Conscience (inner voice)
  • Duty based – It is governed by the feel of “what ought to be”. It is basically Kantian ethics.
  • In recent years there is growing view that there are no predefined norms of morality such that we are supposed to be governed by those principles. Rather it is us who have to create values by the exercise of our free will. Most of the Existentialist thinkers fall under this category.

In nutshell this paper is all about ethical decision and courageously defending our stand without FEAR & FAVOUR.




A beginner’s guide to approaching Ethics – Part 1

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.

Post Prelims – Do’s & Don’ts

Over the years I have witnessed many changes in IAS examination in terms of pattern, trend & nature of questions, cut-offs, composition of aspirants, etc. But one thing remains same, that is – tension & pressure. Even today especially during exams all my memories get refreshed and my BP slightly goes to higher side!!

Anyways , finally your pressure might be eased off  now , at least for the time being.

Till now you must have read so much on Do’s & don’ts before exams. But I would like share some post exam do & don’t s –

1. Just take 2-3 days break. Go home, party around, see movies. Just be away from studies environment.

2. Do not extend this break beyond this. Get back to your business immediately after break. You need to understand that it is only first stage of exam , two more stages are yet to come. So, there is not much liberty to extend break.

3. I strongly believe that real competitive edge lies in the period between exam & result. This is the most crucial time. After exam everybody studies a lot. If you want to take lead over others , stop worrying about result and finish major portion so that after result you could revise no of times.

4. Don’t waste time in tallying your answer sheets again & again. See 2-3 authentic sources and take average.

That night-mares of those silly mistakes will continue to haunt you but you have to ignore them and continue to focus on preparation.

5. Start preparing irrespective of your score. Just tell me “ If you don’t get through prelims  then will you stop preparing and drop your childhood dream & switch over to other options ?”
If “No” , then what you are waiting for ? You are serious aspirant. Stop diversions. Continue preparing seriously.

6. Be careful about propagandists. Such people spread rumors , they boast of getting very high scores. But once result comes out they are the one who are out and then they start cursing ,abusing UPSC.

7. I have often said that key to success especially in IAS is “Revisions & Writing practice “. Writing practice does not means – sitting in library and making notes from 10 books. Rather, it is solving previous years’ questions , getting evaluated by your concerned teacher, working on the feedback  and again writing to remove shortfalls.

Good luck!