Mini Courses of GS IV: Determinants and Consequences of Ethics

Mini Courses of Ethics, Integrity, Attitude, Aptitude and case studies for IAS Mains Examination


Although the words ethics and morality are often used interchangeably, morality is more precisely used to refer to the customs, principles of conduct and moral codes of an individual, group or society. Ethics, also termed moral philosophy or the science of morals, is the branch of philosophy that studies morality through the critical examination of right and wrong in human action.

The study of ethics falls into three main areas of focus:

  • Meta-ethics,
  • Normative ethics
  • Applied ethics.

Meta-ethics is concerned with the very nature of right and wrong, where and how ethical judgments originate, and what they mean in relation to human nature and conduct. For example, questions posed in meta-ethics include how to define the nature of a good act and whether or not morality exists independently of human beings.

Normative ethics seeks to define specific standards or principles to guide ethical conduct in answer to questions such as what is valuable and how are actions morally assessed and justified. Various normative ethical theories attempt to systematically formulate guidelines to answer the basic question of how one ideally ought to behave in a particular situation. A central challenge of normative ethics is that various theories disagree on the fundamental basis and criteria for ethical analysis and conduct. Just as the conceptual assumptions of metaethics contribute to the formulation of normative ethics, normative ethics provide a basis for applied ethics when employed in the analysis of specific, practical issues. Finally, descriptive ethics simply describes the ethical beliefs, norms and behaviors of an individual or group as they actually exist, as opposed to how they ought to exist.


Kantian Ethics

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is generally credited with much of the foundational thought in the evolution of deontology and deontological perspectives. Kant viewed the ability of human beings to reason as the basis of our status as moral agents. Therefore, Kantian ethics rests on the argument that “morality is grounded in reason, not in tradition, intuition, conscience, emotion, or attitudes such as sympathy”. To be fully human is to be a rational being capable of exercising both reason and free will in making decisions and choosing actions.


British philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) are credited with the origins of classical utilitarianism, a moral theory that defines a moral act solely in terms of the outcome or consequences of that act. This teleological perspective is based on a single guiding principle

Feminist Ethics

Feminist theory is a relative newcomer as a source of ethical theory and represents a diverse range of social and political viewpoints. However, all formulations of feminist theory arc concerned with the “private sphere” while also committed to ensuring that the dimensions of politics, economics, and power be included in any ethical analysis. It is rooted in the historical devaluation of the female experience in Western philosophy feminist ethics is predominantly concerned with the imbalance of power and the exposure and elimination of oppression for women and other disadvantaged groups. The term disadvantaged refers generally to any group with diminished power in relation to the larger social system. Groups that can be seen to have diminished power within the health care system include women in general, racial and ethnic minorities (both males and females), the elderly, children, the poor, and the disabled. The basis on which a group might be considered oppressed can vary considerably. Feminists point out that the laws regulating female reproductive rights remain embedded in legal and economic systems in which the majority of decision-makers are still men.

Rights and Rights-Based Ethics

As with many ethical perspectives, rights-based approaches also have their roots with ancient philosophers concerned with the concept of justice, as well as natural law philosophers who recognized a potential for certain rights inherent in human nature. Natural rights are generally held to be a gift of nature or God that cannot be taken away. Modern notions of natural rights are most closely associated with the seventeenth century British philosopher John Locke and his contention that human beings are entitled to life, liberty and property. In contemporary theory, these and other moral claims have come to be referred to as universal human rights and form the basis for establishing and/or evaluating ethical standards within the social order.

Communitarian Ethics

Communitarianism refers to a theoretical perspective that seeks to lessen the focus on individual rights and increase the focus on communal responsibilities. The definition of community varies and can refer to anything from the nuclear or extended family to the political state or nation. In this approach, ethical thought is grounded in communal values, established social standards and traditions, and considerations of me larger society. Communitarians emphasize the influence of society on individuals and contend that values are rooted in common history and tradition (Beauchamp and Childress 2001). Tam (1998) suggests that communitarianism is based on three principles:

  • Any claim of truth be validated through co-operative enquiry.
  • Communities of co-operative inquiry, which represent the spectrum of citizens, should validate common values that become the basis of mutual responsibilities of all community members.
  • All citizens should have equal access and participation in the power structure of society


Aristotle’s ethics is a common sense ethics built on naturalism and self-realization. Of all the classical theories considered here, his is the farthest from an ethics of self-interest.

With respect to the good, right, happiness, the good is not a disposition. The good involves a teleological system that involves actions

  • Good is that which all things aim. Something is good if it performs its proper function. E.g., a good coffee cup or a good red oak
  • A right action is that which is conducive to the good, and different goods correspond to the differing sciences and arts.
  • “The god” or best good is that which is desired for its own sake and for the sake which we desire all other ends or goods. For human beings, eudaemonia is activity of the soul in accordance with arete (excellence, virtue, or what it’s good for). Eudaemonia is living well and doing well in the affairs of the world.
  • The good of human beings cannot be answered with the exactitude of a mathematical problem since mathematics starts with general principles and argues to conclusions.
  • Ethics starts with actual moral judgments before the formulation of general principles.
  • Aristotle presupposes natural tendencies in people.
  • Aristotle distinguishes between happiness (eudaemonia) and moral virtue:
  • Moral virtue is not the end of life for it can go with inactivity, misery, and unhappiness.
  • Happiness, the end of life, that to which all aims, is activity in accordance with reason (reason is the arete or peculiar excellence of persons).
  • Happiness is an activity involving both moral and intellectual arete.
  • Some external goods are necessary in order to exercise that activity.

Benefits of Work Ethics

  • It brings discipline and order. It improves and strengthens relationship amongst superior and subordinates.
  • It enhances commitment and accountability of lop managers and ensures safety of interest of its various stake holders.
  • It supports employees growth
  • It promotes team work
  • It helps to manage values associated with quality management, strategic planning & diversity management.
  • It helps to ensure that legal course of action of action is adopted in procedure to ensure ethical treatment of employees.
  • It promotes strong public image as employees operate with integrity and self respect.
  • It helps to maintain moral course in turbulent times as they consistently give attention to ethics.

How to Improve work Ethics?

  • The only way to change a man for better character is through imparting man making education.
  • Employer should love his employers. It doesn’t mean refraining from punishing the guilty, inefficient and corrupt employees.
  • Inculcating shift in the mindset of employees from ‘taking’ to ‘siring mode’. We always look at what 9 am setting benefits from the organization and we forget what we have to contribute.
  • Organisations can create strong work culture through appropriate system as well as rewards and penalties. If work discipline in terms of time and staying at work place becomes mandatory and subject of penalties for non-compliance, we will quickly change culture. Senior levels have to lead by examples.
  • Protect the organization from loose talks which comes as a result of pride in organization such pride can be inculcated through good internal communications such as to fully inform employees about company programmes.
  • Involvement of employees to keep the work challenging, more satisfying and rewarding for individuals.

Upnishads advocated am ethics based on pure knowledge but Gita itself based not only upon the elements of desires and knowledge in human nature but also include the third element activity or Karma. Gita gives new dignity to work. Work is not unpleasant activity or some sort of punishment but a way of life ordained by the lord. Work is something inherent in the nature of people. Work is not only necessary to keep the body and mind occupied it is necessary for perfection. No work in inverior. All men who work have to be treated with dignity. Work is an end in itself” according to Gita and work is worship.

Ethics in Public Life

Ethics is grounded in the notion of responsibility and accountability. In democracy, every holder of public office is accountable ultimately to the people. Such accountability is enforced through a system of laws and rules, which the elected representatives of the people enact in their legislatures. Ethics provides the basis for the creation of such laws and rules. It is the moral ideas of people that give rise to and shapes the character of laws and rules. Our legal system emanates from a shared vision of what is good and just. All public functionaries are trustees of the people.

The role of ethics in public life has toamy dimensions. At one end is the expression of high moral values and at the other, the specifics of action for which a public functionary can be held legally accountable. Any framework of ethical behaviour must include the following elements:

  • Codifying ethical norms and practices.
  • Disclosing personal interest to avoid conflict between public interest and personal gain.
  • Creating a mechanism for enforcing the relevant codes.
  • Providing norms for qualifying and disqualifying a public functionary from office.


  • Members must not do anything that brings disrepute to the Parliament and affects their credibility.
  • Members must utilize their position as Members of Parliament to advance general wellbeing of the people.
  • In their dealings if Members find that there is a conflict between their personal interests and the public trust, which
  • They hold, they should resolve such a conflict in a manner that their private interests are subordinated to the duty of their public office.
  • Members should always see that their private financial interests and those of the members of their immediate family do not come in conflict with the public interest and if any such conflict ever arises, they should try to resolve such a conflict in a manner that the public interest is not jeopardized.
  • Members should never expect or accept any fee, remuneration or benefit for a vote given or not given by them on the floor of the House, for introducing a Bill, for moving a resolution, putting a question or abstaining from asking a question or participating in the deliberations of the House or a Parliamentary Committee


The Supreme Court of India in its Full Court Meeting held on May 7, 1997 unanimously adopted a charter called the ‘Restatement of Values of Judicial Life’, generally known as the Code of Conduct for judges.

  • Any act of a Judge of the Supreme Court or a High Court, whether in official or personal capacity, which erodes the credibility of this perception has to be avoided.
  • A Judge should not contest the election to any office of a club, society or other association; further he shall not hold such elective office except in a society or association connected with the law.
  • Close association with individual members of the Bar, particularly those who practise in the same court, shall be avoided

This is Part of Online Coaching & Study Kit of IAS Mains General Studies - IV

<< Go Back to Main Page