Mini Courses of GS IV: Family, Global Ethics

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



Family, as a reproductive or a biological unit, consists of a man and a woman having a socially approved sexual relationship and whatever off- spring (natural or adopted) they might have. As a social unit, a family is referred to as “a group of persons of both sexes, related by marriage, blood or adoption, performing roles based on age, sex and relationship, and socially distinguished as making up a single household or a subhousehold.” Aileen Ross’ definition of family includes physical, social and psychological elements of family life. According to her. family is “a group of people usually related as some particular type of kindred, who may live in one household and whose unity resides in patterning of rights and duties, sentiments and authority”. She. thus, makes distinction between four sub-structures of family:

  • ecological sub-structure, i.e., spatial arrangement of family members and their households, or how relatives live geographically close to each otlier. In simple words, this refers to the size of the household and type of the family;
  • sub-structure of rights and duties, i.e., division of labour within the household:
  • sub-structure of power and authority, i.e., control over the action of members; and
  • sub-structure of sentiments, i.e., relationship between different sets of members, say, between husband and wife, parents and children, and siblings and siblings, etc.


The concept of joint family has varied with different scholars. While Irawati Karve regards ‘co-residentiality” as important in jointness, Harold Gould, LP. Desai, SC. Dabe, B.S. Cohn, and Pauline Kolenda do not regard coresidentiality and commensality as essential ingrethents of jointness. F.G Bailey and T.N. Madan give importance to joint ownership of property, irrespective of the type of residence and commensality. LP. Desai gives importance to fulfillment of obligations towards kin, even if residence is separate and there is no common ownership of property. According to Irawati Karve, the traditional ancient Indian family (Vedic and Epic periods) was joint in terms of residence, property, and functions. She has given five characteristics of joint family: common residence, common kitchen, common property, common family worship, and some kinship relationship.


The changes in intra-family relations may be examined at three levels: husband-wife relations, parental-filial relations, and relations between daughter-in-law and parents-in-law.

Emphasising ‘resources’ factor does not mean that ‘culture’ (what Max Weber has called ‘traditional authority’) has lost its importance. In fact, both factors are important today in ‘conjugal bonds’. It may thus be averred that though an average Indian family is husband-dominant yet the ideological source of power of women is giving place to a pragmatic one.


Are the arguments against the joint family system appropriate and relevant? Are the values of people really changing? Is there any evidence of a qualitative change in the value system of the people which will lead to complete nuclearisation of the joint family structures? If no, why are ear lier values losing their influence in the contemporary period? What is the future of the Indian family?

The perspective on family in India is usually developed on the conceptual scale of’tradition to modernity’ by undertaking either opinion-surveys of youths or general public belonging to different forms of family structure, or making socio-economic surveys of people of different castes and classes in the rural and the urban areas. Do the studies that have been made so far on Indian family indicate some direction of change in future?


The future of family can be perceived with two perspectives: functionalist and Marxist. Functionalists perceive family as an important ‘organ’ in the ‘body’ of society. They arc concerned with the functions that the family pcrfornis-sexual, reproductive, socializing or educational, and economic. The first two functions indicate that family is useful biologically while other functions point out that it is useful socially and culturally too. Can other institutions take over the functions of the family’’ It is argued that even when other institutions perform the functions of the family, they only help’ the family in these functions and not that they ‘deprive or relieve’ family from performing them. Family’s functions have been modified in recent years. The family gives ‘something’ to and gets ‘something’ from other sub-systems. Family’s role is primary.



International ethics refers to the good that international interactions, exchanges, relations can bring to our planet earth and to all life forms and which can be harmed by unfriendly, hostile, uncooperative behaviours. Aware that the harms that one country can do to another and to the international space and relations, international ethics offers insights into how nations and other entities treat other nations and its people. International ethics is a good which can be harmed and also knowledge of international ethics provides us with insights to assess the good and harms, the rights and wrongs, which can occur in the international space. For example, the UN has been promoting various principles of friendly and cooperative and peace related humanitarian international actions by all the member countries. This community of nations which stands to respect other nations and their interests, is itself harmed by the dominant nations willing to impose their interests and will on other poorer nations and poorer nations unwilling to cooperate without being treated as equals. Various agencies of the UN by their presence and action in various countries, promote certain universal principles that transcend the boundaries of individual nations and the ethical principles pursued by individual nations. International ethics is not simply an ethics of some dominant country, it is not simply an ethic of a powerful country having obligations towards others because of the power they have over others.


Nations and multinational organizations were the first ones to cross the boundaries of national domestic spheres to trade or interact with other nations and organizations. Every nation had its own focus, as nations adopted the production methods, technologies, political systems and legal systems from other nations, similar problems began to appear in almost every country. These were not regarded as shared problems that required joint action by all those affected by it. Each country was largely responsible for problems occurring within it guided and directed by its own governments, culture, politics, legal systems, institutions, etc. But overtime today we see more and more interconnectedness between people and nations, we see greater interdependence and greater shared responsibilities which have emerged and their number has increased and which call on nations and other multinational organizations having presence in more than one country to act jointly. In many spheres international joint action becomes necessary. International ethics may be seen as responding to this need for international action. International ethics guides international relations and resolution of international conflicts. International ethics guides the international environmental effort to fight against ozone depletion, global


The impact of human activity primarily in terms of how they live and what economic activities they carry out in nature have been critically assessed by scientific establishments and which have been incorporated into national and international action and policy. Mitigating the effects of environmental and economic changes is necessary due to such impacts of human activity. Nations are competing for ecological system advantages by doing what they believe will help the environment to preserve its natural capacity and vitality and which will secure for nations an ecological and economic advantage.

‘Philosophical reflection on the natural environment has truly become international and global along with its counter parts the social, cultural, economic and political philosophical reflection. Various insights are available from each of these fields for critical reflection on what harms human beings are doing through the activities they carry out, through various operations and the consequences of such activities.


Every country may be seen as using the power it has to achieve its global interests. International ethics can also be regarded as the use of power by one country against another country to achieve its global goals and protecting its national interests. When aggressively pursued it may lead to certain conflicts. Military involvement and military strengths, strategies and calculations may drive in part international presence, international relations, and influence international ethics through its (propaganda) media.


There are various dimensions that one can compare nations and their strengths, the wellbeing of their population etc. We are in an unequal world and facts point out to a world growing in inequalities. Inequalities point to certain conflicts which may be domestic in origin or international, but they are indicators of disturbing trends. In an unequal world, expectations of equity, international equity are high. In other words, demands of justice may require that we prefer a more equitable world to a less equitable world brought about by international action. It would possibly imply that any international action must aim at benefiting the least advantaged nations more than that would be expected for a most advantaged nation. Otherwise, it would appear there would not be an incentive for less advantaged or least advantaged nations to participate in international actions. In cases of such failures, only those international actions which are powered by dominant nations will be carried through creating and endorsing a more divided world with even a greater possibility of future conflict.


Freedom of speech involves religion or world religions, the world press or international press and media, the education sectors, the cultural expressions, exchanges and products. Religions are influential actors in international relations and international peace and security


Another driver for international ethics and international actions or actions with international implications and impacts is the international and global flow of information. Underlying such actions and activities are the issues of technology, particularly information technology and to what use information and information technology is put internationally and nationally by individuals and countries. Information can confer advantages, so various international gatekeepers can control the flow of information and thus the advantages or disadvantages or create destruction of informational advantages. Information technologies and their use also may be directed by ideas of international ethics.


Science has been a driver of international and global developments. Every country has its community of scientific advisers to offer best science advise to their governments and these are in constant international and global contact with their counter parts in exchanging ideas and scientific research trends and information that could be strategically employed. International ethics may be influenced and driven by developments in the scientific research fields. Different research fields have different contexts and so research ethics may be more contextual and international ethics then follows various contextual offerings and multidimensional.


At various times the world attention, gets itself focused on the most powerful nation, both domestically and internationally, a nation that is willing to impose its powerful will on the world, taking into task any nation that challenged its authority and its interests. Many wars and conflicts are indeed triggered by the unilateral moves of dominant nations against other nations that threatened its global interests.


Realism focuses on a single reality, international power. It is the power that one nation has to influence another nation directing and shaping its destiny in the direction it desires namely into a kind of tacit servitude of serving and protecting its interests at the cost of the other. In the international realm, realism holds that the only thing that really matters is power - what power a country has. Nothing else matters - morality, ethics, law, and political systems, legal systems, cultural systems - are all irrelevant. The argument appears to be that in international sphere human nature is such that no one can be trusted each seeks to dominate the other. Either one country will dominate the other or the other will try to dominate the first, so it is better to be the dominating or dominant country. The realist approach to international sphere or international relations is simply to deny any role for common or shared ethics, and create an ethically neutral zone or an ethics free zone which can be filled by the power of one who is dominant. Obviously others will perceive realist conception of international space, international relations based solely on the principle of power as quite unjust.


Idealism focuses on “common interests” between nations, and not necessarily at the power or power distance or at power balance. It seeks to build the international sphere on the basis of idealist values that are of common interests to nations participating in any international issues and problems. Idealism built on common interests appears to be stronger in power than unilateral power of realism and hence can have the potential to replace realism in thought, word and deed and as a philosophical thought. Idealism has the potential to create more lasting hopes of peace and of a growing international sphere where mutual interests and common concerns are addressed more earnestly in the true spirit of pursuing what can be regarded as human purposes of human flourishing. Thus the rise of idealism holds out a promise, even though conflicts remain.


Constructivism focuses on things like foreign policy, diplomatic initiatives, etc to shape international relations and the international sphere where a country has credible influence. In these things the focus is on domestic politics and how it shapes foreign policy with what goals in mind. It is more pragmatic with domestic political regimes as seats of international action and initiators of international action and its’ implementation. Every nation and every state create a sense of national identity in various ways and nurture it through historical and cultural celebrations and means. Thus national identity is constructed and it in turn is said to influence the way the nations interact. Basically constructivism allows for influence of national identities and its constructions on the international sphere. A flavour or dimension is added through identity politics into international sphere and relations. International sphere can also be a place where various identities can melt into more humane understanding between people in and through the ‘give and take’ of identity respects and exchanges.


Every life may be considered as having equal moral weight. In this belief, valid if one holds such beliefs, it is the global interest that count as much as domestic interests. No preference is given by governments or by anybody else to the welfare of citizens of that country.

There are no differentiating factors recognized by such governments that distinguish between the welfare of its citizens and those belonging to another country. Everyone has equal rights. Everyone is treated equally in equal respects. In such cases and in the context of such beliefs of equality of life, it becomes meaningful to make sacrifices for others.

People rarely sacrifice themselves for their own near and dear ones. But people sacrificing themselves for others in the international space are truly worthy examples of human greatness and the greatness to which human spirit can rise.

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

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