GS4 Ethics Glossary

GS4 Ethics Glossary

Frameworks for ethics case studies and glossary of terms.

Table of contents

This page is a glossary of terms that can be useful for people preparing for the Ethics paper in UPSC Mains.

There are no details here - just examples for you to build on.

Frameworks for case studies

5 Simple frameworks that you can use to solve case studies. Keep in mind that

  1. Stakeholder approach - who are the people involved? What are their motives? What are the conflicts between them?
  2. Ethical dilemmas in the situation - are you choosing the lesser evil? Or are you differentiating between the good and the better? Why does the choice exist?
  3. Values based approach - what are the first principles that can be applied here? Does humanism help? Or are you more utilitarian? Surely not Kantian?
  4. Fact-value mapping - Murder is bad, community service is good.
  5. Facts of the case - just repeating what's said hoping something makes sense to you along the way. Because let's face it this is your last option.

During the exam, different cases will require different approaches. And these are just 5 examples, there are plenty of other ideas that can be applied based on the situation. These frameworks are simply meant to get your problem solving neurons firing.

Ethical Words?

Create your definitions for these words. (examples given below)

Personal values
Professional values
Public values
Neutral values
Self Improvement
Personal relationships
Pursuit of happiness

Professional relations

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Integrity: When thought speech and action are in sync.

Gandhi, said what he meant and followed through with actions on satyagraha.

Inspires trust and faith in your ability.

Fairness: acting on some pre-defined standards. Standards can be set personally or by law. Three aspects: actions, processes and consequences. Nehru selecting Ambedkar to draft the constitution so that it would be acceptable to all.

Objectivity: Working according to defined standards. Be it merit based or law based and not letting the outcome affect our actions. Umpire following the rules to allow decision review.

Equality: when all are given the opportunity to grow and flourish.

  1. Ensuring equal access to education irrespective of the child's background.
  2. Giving equal opportunities to everyone despite their differences.

Liberty: ability to act according to our own wishes. Golden rule - liberty for all. Kant says liberty exists in acting according to rules that we set ourselves, he finds that the golden rule is the common denominator across cultures and geographies. Freedom to pursue my self-interests so long as they are not detrimental to others.

Justice: People receive what they deserve. Forms of justice: harsh justice, absolute justice, lazy justice, humane justice, quick justice (lynching), outrage (anger against injustice). Thief received justice when he was caught on CCTV.

Responsibility: being accountable for something. Responsibility as a father, as a civil servant, as a citizen. Every right has it's responsibilities.

Responsibility is accepting that you are the cause and the solution of the matter.

Being responsible for prompt execution of the project, you set deadlines and follow up to see that they are being met.

Duty: An obligation to do something. Fulfilling your dharma essentially, but dharma can be circumstantial and based on occupation.

  1. Duty for a gangster and duty for a policeman.
  2. It is my duty as a student to excel in my studies.

Compassion: Concern for the misery of others.

  1. Allowing leave to a subordinate when they face the death of a loved one.
  2. Seeing a homeless man cold on the street you give them a blanket.

Honesty: Quality of being truthful. Telling a friend honestly that you won't be coming rather than making excuses.

Respect: Giving others their due recognition and regard for their rights. Admiration caused by skills or qualities of the subject.

  1. Give due consideration to the thoughts and opinions of children, for treating them with respect ensures they learn respect.
  2. Respect for the constitution and its values.

Dedication: Being committed to a task. If you're learning an opening in chess, spending time with the intricacies.

  1. Mother Teresa was dedicated to the cause of the needy.
  2. Gandhi dedicated his life to the search for truth.

Sincerity: When you say what you mean and mean what you say. Wholeheartedness. When you say you'll support someone and then are present physically, emotionally and financially if needed.

Involvement: Being actively engaged in matters at hand.

  1. Doctors following up on health shows their involvement.

Punctuality: being on time, every time. Reinforces trust and faith.

Promptness: Being quick to offer solutions and aid.

Empathy: Feeling with someone. I've broken bones before so I know how it feels.

Sympathy: Feeling for someone. I feel bad for a friend who has broken a bone.

Probity: Having strong moral principles. Theodore Roosevelt never backed down from a fight for what was right. No matter the odds.

Inclusive: Working for the benefit of everyone. Sarvodaya and antyodaya.

Impartiality: decisions should be taken on merit and free from any partisan interest. In official work, including functions like procurement, recruitment, delivery of services etc.

Commitment to public service: Deliver services in a fair, effective, impartial and courteous manner.

Open accountability: Those who take decisions and actions and should be willing subjects to appropriate scrutiny for this purpose.

Devotion to duty: Maintain absolute and unstinting devotion towards duties and responsibilities at all times.

Exemplary behaviour: Treat all members of the public with respect and courtesy. Behave in a manner that upholds the rich traditions of the civil services.

Leadership qualities. Reflexive understanding of how one should behave in a given social role. Leading from the front in crisis situations inspires confidence.

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Corruption: abuse of official authority for personal gain. Accepting money for a favour.

Apathy: Not feeling anything about a situation/individual. Student doesn't care about passing or failing, apathetic to class.

Nepotism: Unfair favour to relatives and close friends. Minister awards tender to son's company.

Favouritism: Choosing one individual over others despite merits. Showing a preference for mango icecream.

Greed: Selfish desire for more. Wealth, power, prestige, materials. Hoarding grain when people are starving.

Evil: as times change, so does the definition of evil.

Alan Turing, one of the greatest humans of his generation was chemically castrated, which eventually led him to commit suicide just because he did not conform to the heterosexual moral standards in the 1950s. Nietzsche.

Unrealistic: going after things which aren't possible or practical. Wanting to have a moon base in 5 years. Doable in 15.

Irrational: Being illogical. Wanting to go to the moon tomorrow.

Callousness: Disregard for others. Roughly pushing a beggar away when they come near.

Punishment: to inflict a penalty, either physical or financial, on someone for a wrong.

Procrastination: delaying for fear of failure. Fail, rinse, repeat.

Indolence: Laziness. Not moving quickly enough when people are dying of thirst or hunger.

Indecisiveness: Inability to choose between alternatives. Delays action and impacts delivery. Choosing between mauve and azure.

Transactional corruption: quid pro quo type arrangement.


Simple mappings to help you get a better sense of what values go together.








Simple mappings to help you get a better sense of what values don't go together.

















Cool lines

To be used when you don't have relevant content.

  1. When practical people discuss matters the standards of justice depend on the power of persuasion.
  2. Morality doesn't exist in a vacuum. In order to reflect on the situation we must also reflect on the roles taken by people in the situation.
  3. In the pursuit of wealth, the means ends debate has been sidelined. Wealth is supreme.
  4. Thirukkural emphasises earning through right means.
  5. Complicated law promotes corruption by allowing people to interpret what it means.
  6. Politics is a social process to determine who gets what, how and when. Frans De Waal.
  7. Man is a political animal.
  8. 6sigma and Lean management in government.
  9. Personal safety vs duty to the public for physicians.
  10. Anti-conversion laws and consent. State assumes faulty consent and no agency for women.
  11. Take care of your morals first, health second and finally your studies.

Best of luck!

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