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.

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By Mitra Sir

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

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