In this post you’re going to get ethics notes for UPSC exams.

In fact, you can score more marks in ethics paper than other general studies papers. Because of its crisp syllabus and easy to understand concepts you can easily score good marks.

So, without wasting time. Let’s dive right in.

Table of Content

What are ethics?

Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime. As a field of intellectual inquiry, moral philosophy also is related to the fields of moral psychology, descriptive ethics, and value theory. Source: Wikipedia

Why do we need ethics ?

Ethics help us navigate the area between what is absolutely right and what is morally wrong. They provide the structure that helps us make a decision we can be proud of in the context of our societal, familial and personal value structures.

Ethics vs Morals

While they are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different:

Ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions.
Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong.

Dimensions of Ethics

Meta Ethics

Deals with the “after” or “beyond, and questions such as: “What is goodness?” and “How can we tell good from bad?” It also questions the origin of ethical principles, whether they are human or divine in origin. It also deals with questions like: What are the meanings of ethical terms: right, wrong, love, compassion? It also questions whether moral judgments are universal or relative, and if they are of one kind or many.

Also Read: List of Ethics books for UPSC Exam

Prescriptive Ethics (Normative Ethics)

Normative Ethics is concerned with the criteria of what is right or wrong. IT includes the formulation of moral rules that have direct implications for what human actions, institutions and ways of life should be like. It deals with questions like: How should people act? What is the correct action?

The different branches are:

  • Virtue Ethics
  • Consequentialism
  • Deontological Ethics

Descriptive Ethics

Descriptive ethics studies people’s belief about morality. Describes and compares between objectives of different ethical theories. It deals with questions like: What do people think is right? It is different from normative and applied ethics.

Applied Ethics

Applied ethics is a philosophical examination from a moral standpoint of particular issues in private and public life that are matters of moral judgment. This uses application of moral knowledge to practical problems and uses philosophical methods to identify the morally correct course of action in various fields of human life.

The different branches are:

  • Bio Ethics
  • Business Ethics
  • Military Ethics
  • Political Ethics
  • Environmental Ethics
  • Publication Ethics


Values can be defined as those things that are valued by someone. In other words, values are what is considered “important” by an individual or an organization. Examples include courage, honesty, freedom, innovation etc.

Value = Degree of Importance of Something Particular

Value denotes the degree of importance of something (even an action). Values help in determining what actions are best to do.

Values are ‘beliefs’ about ‘what is important’

Values are the beliefs of an individual or a social group about what is held important that motivate people to act one way or another. “Equal rights for all”, “Merit above all else”, “Dignity of labour” etc are representatives of values.

Values are created by formal and informal education. Formal education is what we receive in schools through our teachers, books and the education system. Values inculcate discipline in us and add diversity to our thoughts. Values also helps us to solve problems in particular ways unique to ourselves. Values are also the underlying basis of our attitudes that determine our behavior. Finally, values help develop a love for one’s own country.

Values (What is Important?) vs. Ethics (What is Right?)

Values Ethics
What is important? What is right?
What should I achieve? What is the correct action?
Differs from person to person Usually considered universal
Motivates Constrains

Values are ideals of someone (or a group) about what is good or bad (or desirable or undesirable).

Ethics is all about reasoning how to do the right action. (Don’t miss the article on the dimensions of ethics from UPSC Pathshala)

Remember, values motivate, while morals and ethics constrain.

The conflict between Values and Ethics

People tend to adopt values that they grow up with. They also tend to believe that those values are “right” because of their conditioning of their particular culture.

For example, if making money is a value by any particular culture’s standards without consideration about how that money is being made then the act of making money itself seems right to a person from that culture irrespective of the means of making that money.

Choosing which values to hold higher against another is a matter of ethical decision.

A conflict between Values: Value ‘A’ vs. Value ‘B’

Conflicts can be a result of conflicting value systems. Person A holding the value of honesty higher than efficiency might not see eye to eye with person B who values efficiency higher than honesty.

Values vary among Individuals, Cultures, and Time

Just like morals, values also vary among individuals and across cultures and time.

For example, for some people, their nation’s flag may represent a sacred value. But for others, the flag may just be a piece of cloth.

Types of values

We know that honesty, goodness, humility etc values. They form a group of values called Moral Values. There are other types of values as well – like Genius, Beauty, Power etc. However, moral values are rated highest among all natural values.

Values can be classified as:

Spiritual Values

Moral Values

Social Values

Intellectual Values

Economic Values

Political Values etc

Personal Values vs. Social Values

Personal Values – Important for individual well being.

Examples: self-respect, comfortable life, freedom etc.

Social Values – Important for other people’s well being.

Examples: equality, social justice, national security, world peace etc.

Note: A positive and fulfilling life requires a coordinated and balanced pursuit of both self-serving and other serving values.

Lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators

We are fortunate to have many great leaders, reformers, and administrators who cherished noble values and ethics. They not only lived an ethical life but also taught many human values.

Let’s have a quick look at the lessons from the lives of eminent persons. We shall deal with each of them in detail in the next posts.

Personalities What they Valued
Mahatma Gandhi Simplicity, Minimalism, Satyagraha, Sarvodaya, Secularism, Ahimsa, Non-Violence, Truth, Forgiveness, Self-Sufficiency, Dignity of labour etc.
Jawaharlal Nehru Democracy, institution building, consensus building, socialism, secularism, self-determination, internationalism etc.
Nelson Mandela Service, dignity, self-belief, equality of the human race, freedom, fairness, justice, etc.
Abraham Lincoln Humanism, equality of the human race, integrity, idealism, honesty, freedom etc.
Martin Luther King Jr Self-belief, equality of the human race etc.
Raja Rammohan Roy Social equality, equality of the human race, women empowerment, scientific thinking etc.
Swami Vivekananda Self-belief, equality of the human race, patriotism, compassion etc.
B R Ambedkar Self-belief, equality of the human race, radical thinking, compassion etc.
Mother Teresa Compassion, altruism, helpfulness, kindness, cleanliness, determination.
Verghese Kurien Self-belief, co-operative societies, entrepreneurship, innovation, farmer welfare etc.
M.S. Swaminathan Sustainable development, green revolution, poverty alleviation, farmer welfare etc.
Sam Pitroda Self-belief, dreaming big, entrepreneurship, policy making, innovation etc.
E. Sreedharan Punctuality, self-belief, integrity, high-quality standards etc.

Role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values

Role of Family in inculcating values

The family is the earliest and the most influential agent of social initiation and socialization. Socialization via the family goes on throughout life. Parents, siblings, and grandparents become the immediate agents of socialization.

Values are inculcated in children through the actions of family members. Children pick up behavioral traits from all those who are in their immediate environment. Values are imbibed by children by observing what parents do (and not just what parents say).

The power of the family is strongest during infancy and toddler years. During the teenage, the influence of peer group and media usually overpowers the influence of the family. However, the family returns as a predominant agent of socialization during the adult years with the roles of marital partner and parents becoming prominent.

There can be differences in values between two families based on their socio-economic statuses.

Role of Educational Institutions in inculcating values

Schools and Colleges are important agents in the process of socialization and thus can help a lot in inculcating values. School is the first place where the individual values get compared with the larger value system of the society.

The curriculum imparts the values of accepted behavior. A school student learns not only from the official curriculum but also from the social curriculum of peer groups. Values are also imbibed from the practices and rules and regulations of school (e.g.: take permission of the teacher to speak while in class). This is the place where one learns the values of punctuality and discipline.

Values education is an explicit attempt to teach about values. There are five basic approaches to values education: inculcation, moral development, analysis, action learning, and values clarification.

Role of Society in inculcating values

Society can also inculcate a lot of values in people. The elements of the society who have great influence in people include:

Friends, Neighbors, Media, Films, Religion, Leaders, Government


Attitudes are views, beliefs, or evaluations of people about something (the object). The attitude object can be a person, place, thing, ideology, or an event. Attitudes can be positive or negative.

Eg: I hate men with long hair.

In the above example, the person is having a negative attitude towards men who grow long hair.

Attitudes vs. Values

Attitude Values
What do you like / dislike? What is important for you?
Derives from Beliefs Derived from Beliefs
E.g.: They like honest people E.g.: They value honesty

Both Attitudes and Values are the beliefs (views) of a person. However, attitude is the belief (views) of a person towards ‘something’.


“I hate cockroaches”

“I like peaches.”

“I don’t like big cars”

“I love people with a beard”

Thus you can see that attitude is all about whether you like or dislike something.

Value is also a belief (about what is important), but it’s not towards anything.

Value can exist in itself.

Then how is attitude connected with value? Attitude is the view of a person regarding a value.

Can you change a person’s attitude? (..or your own attitude?)

Due to the influence of the society, we all develop positive, negative, and neutral attitudes towards many things. (Eg: I hate XYZ religion). If our negative or neutral attitude is undesirable in a modern society, it should be changed to a positive attitude.

There are various techniques for changing a person’s attitude.

Attitude: content, structure, and function

Content Structure Function
ExplicitImplicit Components:·         ABC Model / CAB ModelDimensions:·         Strength·         Accessibility·         AmbivalenceViews:·         One dimensional·         Two dimensional ·         Knowledge·         Ego Defensive·         Ego Expressive·         Instrumental·         Social Acceptance

Attitudes are often the result of social influence, experience or upbringing. Attitudes have a powerful influence over behavior. Attitudes can change, resulting in a change in behavior as well despite being enduring.

For example – Only if the citizens of a country have a positive attitude towards cleanliness, campaigns such as Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) will succeed. Here, by various campaigns (advertisements), the government is trying to change the attitude of citizens, and hence to stop their behavior of throwing wastes in public, open-defecation etc.

Attitude – Content

Carl Jung, one of the founders of psychoanalysis, is of the opinion that the contents of the conscious and unconscious part of the mind are usually different. Accordingly, attitudes are classified as explicit and implicit.

Explicit Attitude (Conscious) – If a person is aware of his attitudes and how they influence his behavior, then those attitudes are explicit. Explicit attitudes are formed consciously.

Implicit Attitude (Sub-Conscious) – If a person is unaware of his attitudes (beliefs) and how they influence his behavior, then those attitudes are implicit. Implicit attitudes are formed sub-consciously.

Attitude – Structure

How are attitudes formed? Let’s say, for example, you like Honda cars. So you have a positive attitude towards Honda cars. Let us look at how this attitude was formed.

Components of Attitude:

As per experts, three components – learning, emotions, and past behavior – come together, and on the basis of it, we form an attitude.

This multi component model is known as the ABC Model or CAB Model. Let’s see the components of the CAB model.

  1. Cognitive Component – This involves the person’s learning, knowledge, beliefs, and thoughts about the attitude-object (in our case, Honda cars). For example, if you have learned previously that Honda cars give more than 20 km/litre mileage on petrol – that can create a positive attitude towards the brand.
  2. Affective Component – This involves a person’s feelings, emotions about the attitude object. For example, if owning a Honda car gives you pleasure and prestige, that will create a positive attitude about the brand.
  3. Behavioural Component (Conative Component) – This involves the past behaviors or experiences regarding the attitude object. For example, if you have previously owned or driven Honda cars and felt comfortable driving the same, that will create a positive attitude towards the brand. People hate cognitive dissonance, and hence try to align the present behavior with past behavior as well.

Thus, in short, to change an attitude you need to touch all components of that attitude i.e. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioural.

Dimensions of Attitude:

(1) Strength of Attitude

Some attitudes are strong while some attitudes are weak. The strength with which an attitude is held is often a good predictor of behavior. The stronger the attitude the more likely it should affect behavior.

For example, consider that Muthu from Tamil Nadu as well as Rahul from Uttar Pradesh like the Tamil Film Actor Rajnikanth. However, the strength of the positive attitude of Muthu may be very high (10/10 if rated on a scale). Rahul, even though likes Rajnikanth, his positive attitude’s strength may not match the strength of the attitude of Muthu (6/10, if rated on a scale).

The very strong attitude of Muthu may get directly expressed in his behavior in the form of hero-worship, intolerance of any negative comments, an extreme expression of emotions etc. However, even though Rahul has a positive attitude towards the Film actor, as his attitude is not as strong as Muthu, he may not exhibit strong behavior as Muthu.

(2) Accessibility of Attitude

The accessibility of an attitude refers to the ease with which it comes to mind. In general, highly accessible attitudes tend to be stronger.

(3) Attitude ambivalence

The ambivalence of an attitude refers to the ratio of positive and negative evaluations that make up that attitude. The ambivalence of an attitude increases as the positive and negative evaluations get more and more equal.

The one-dimensional view – It postulates that the positive and negative elements are stored at opposite ends of a single dimension. according to this one-dimensional perspective, the positive and negative elements are at opposite ends of a single dimension, and people tend to experience either end of the dimension or a location in between.

The two-dimensional view – It postulates that positive and negative elements are stored along two separate dimensions. If this view is correct, then people can possess any combination of positivity or negativity in their attitudes.

Attitude – Functions

Attitudes are important because they can guide thought, behavior, and feelings. If you hold some attitudes, it might be useful to you. Attitudes help to mediate between a person’s internal needs (Eg: self-expression) and the external environment. Thus, attitude helps people to achieve their basic goals.

Daniel Katz classified attitudes into different groups based on their functions

  1. Knowledge function: knowing someone’s attitude imparts knowledge.
  2. Ego-defensive function: attitudes can help people protect their self-esteem and avoid depression.
  3. Ego-expressive function: used to express one’s core values or beliefs.
  4. Instrumental function: helps to choose what is rewarding (and also avoid punishment).
  5. Social Acceptance function: adapt to the socially approved attitudes of a larger group.

Now let’s take a look at each of these functions in detail.

1. Knowledge Function

As we discussed in the beginning, attitude is all about what a person likes or dislikes.

Knowing a person’s attitude helps us predict their behavior. For example, knowing that a person is religious we can predict they will go to Church.

Attitude thus allows us to predict what is likely to happen, and so gives us a sense of control. Attitudes can help us organize and structure our experience.

The knowledge function refers to our need for a world which is consistent and relatively stable. In short, attitudes serve the function of providing meaning (knowledge) for life.

2. Ego-defensive Function

Not everyone can do everything. This is a truth.

However, attitude (like/dislike) can mask this truth to protect your ego.

For example, you may not be able to play football like Messi. However, instead of accepting this truth, to protect your self-esteem you can say that you don’t like football, and you are interested only in intellectual activities.

Positive attitudes towards ourselves, just like the example above, have a protective function (i.e. an ego-defensive role) in helping us preserve our self-image. Otherwise, we might fall into depression.

3. Ego Expressive Function (Value Expressive/Self Expressive)

The attitudes we express (what we like or dislike) helps to express who we are, what are our basic values, and what we stand for. This (1) helps communicate who we are and (2) may make us feel good because we have asserted our identity.  Self-expression of attitudes can be non-verbal too.

Therefore, our attitudes are part of our identity.

4. Instrumental Function (Utilitarian)

People develop positive attitudes towards objects associated with rewards, and negative attitudes towards those associated with punishments.

For example, as tax-evasion attracts punishments, a person may develop an attitude of integrity towards tax payment.

Note: Any attitude that is adopted in a person’s own self-interest is considered to serve a utilitarian function.

5. Social Acceptance Function (Identity/Adaptive)

If a person holds or expresses socially acceptable attitudes, other people will reward them with approval and social acceptance.

For example, decoration of the house during festivals.

Adaptive functions help us fit in with a social group. People seek out others who share their attitudes and develop similar attitudes to those they like.

Attitude’s Influence and Relation with Thought and Behavior

We tend to assume that people behave according to their attitudes. However, social psychologists have found that attitudes and actual behavior are not always perfectly aligned.

Case 1 – Attitude ≠ Behavior

For example, take the case of elections. Plenty of people may support a particular candidate, but they may not take the pain to go out and vote for him, despite their names being there on the electoral roll.

There is another famous example in relation to this. It is connected with the prejudice (negative attitude) Americans once had against the Chinese.

Here it is:

In the days when Americans were said to be prejudiced against the Chinese, Richard LaPierre, an American social psychologist, conducted the following study.

He asked a Chinese couple to travel across the United States, and stay in different hotels. They were all given accommodation by the different hotels (there was only one instance during these occasions they were refused service by one of the hotels).

Sometime later, LaPierre sent out questionnaires to managers of hotels and tourist homes in the same areas where the Chinese couple had travelled, asking them if they would give accommodation to Chinese guests.

A very large percentage (91%) said that they would not do so.

This response showed a negative attitude towards the Chinese, which was inconsistent with the positive behavior that was actually shown towards the travelling Chinese couple.

Thus, attitudes may not always predict the actual pattern of one’s behavior. To be more precise, the LaPierre’s study shows that the cognitive and affective components of attitudes (e.g. disliking Chinese people) do not necessarily coincide with behavior (e.g. serving them).

Case 2 – Behavior ≠ Attitude

Behavioural component (remember the CAB model) is generally the most visible component of our attitude. However, some people can hide the same. We have seen that in the American/Chinese case study example (above). Here a negative attitude was masked by people to show a positive behavior.

There can also be instances where a negative behavior to co-exist with a positive attitude. This occurs usually when the positive attitude is not strong enough. For example, consider a person with a positive attitude of not to jump queues. However, when he sees everyone around him does the same, he may think he will lose, if not jump queues. Thus he may behave opposite to his original attitude – which we can call as weak positive.

Case 3 – Attitude = Behavior

Psychologists have found that there would be consistency between attitudes and behavior when:

  • the attitude is strong, and it occupies a central place in the attitude system.
  • the person is aware of her/his attitude.
  • there is very little or no external pressure on the person to behave in a particular way. For example, when there is no group pressure to follow a particular norm.
  • the person’s behavior is not being watched or evaluated by others.
  • the person thinks that the behavior would have a positive consequence, and therefore, intends to engage in that behavior.

Note: Persons with high integrity usually show a direct relation between attitude and behavior.

Case 4 – Behaviour = Attitude

People dislike Cognitive Dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a phenomenon in which a person experiences psychological distress due to conflicting thoughts or beliefs. In order to reduce this tension, people may change their attitudes to reflect their other beliefs or actual behaviors.

This means they prefer their attitude and behavior to be aligned in the same direction. By giving incentives to behave contrary to the attitude, Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith (study in 1954), proved that the first attitude can be changed to suit their external behavior.

How can you change one’s attitude (or your attitude)?

Attitude change occurs anytime an attitude is modified. Thus, change occurs when a person goes from being positive to negative, from slightly positive to very positive, or from having no attitude to having one. The various theories that can be used include:

Learning Theory of Attitude Change: Classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning can be used to bring about attitude change.

(1) Classical conditioning – create positive emotional reactions to an object, person, or event by associating positive feelings with the target object.

(2) Operant conditioning – strengthen desirable attitudes and weaken undesirable ones.

(3) Observational learning – let people observe the behavior of others so that they change their attitude.

Elaboration Likelihood Theory of Attitude Change (The theory of persuasion): This theory of persuasion suggests that people can alter their attitudes in two ways.

First, they can be motivated to listen and think about the message, thus leading to an attitude shift.

Or, they might be influenced by the characteristics of the speaker, leading to a temporary or surface shift in attitude. Messages that are thought-provoking and that appeal to logic are more likely to lead to permanent changes in attitudes.

Dissonance Theory of Attitude Change:

As mentioned earlier, people can also change their attitudes when they have conflicting beliefs about a topic (cognitive dissonance). In order to reduce the tension created by these incompatible beliefs, people often shift their attitudes. In the earlier example, the dissonance was created by giving an incentive to change the behavior, and thus attitude was also changed accordingly.

Moral and Political Attitudes

Moral Attitudes are attitudes of individuals towards moral issues, while political attitudes are attitudes of individuals towards political issues. We shall see them in detail.

Moral Attitude

Attitude is about what you like, and morals are about what is (or society thinks as) right or wrong. So Moral Attitude is the attitude you hold towards moral issues (where society debates what is right or wrong).

For example – what is your attitude towards Euthanasia (mercy killing)? Do you think it as right?

There are a lot of moral issues currently – reproductive cloning, surrogate motherhood, abortion, sex selection, pornography, prostitution, dance bars, euthanasia, capital punishment, homosexuality, live-in relationships, incest, divorce, honour killing, consumerism, owning personal weapons, gambling, prohibition etc being some of them. Your attitude towards these issues comes under the broad category of moral attitude.

Political Attitude

Political attitude is the attitude you hold towards political issues or ideologies. For example, what is your view of the reservation? It is time that India should stop giving reservations? Your attitude towards reservation is a political attitude.

Let’s take another example. What is your view on Communism? Do you like the ideology of Communism? Do you prefer the concept of no-state and market control? Or do you prefer a free market?

Attitude towards patriotism, democracy, plebiscite, reservation for women, eunuchs, equality, secularism, socialism, communism, scheduled castes and other minorities in politics, communalism, ideals of transparency and accountability, corruption, voting, political parties etc. comes under the broad umbrella of political attitude.

Also, your attitude towards the basic politic spectrum – left or right – comes under your political attitude.

Social influence and persuasion

The study of social influence phenomena lies at the very heart of social psychology. Persuasion is one form of social influence. We shall discuss these topics in detail, as a separate post later. It’s quite interesting to know how society influences us. Now let’s focus on the key concepts.

Social Influence

Social influence refers to the ways people influence the attitudes, values, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors of others. Each day we are bombarded by countless attempts by others to influence us.

Consider our daily exposure to radio and television commercials, newspaper ads, direct requests, influence attempts by salespersons, politicians, and so forth.

Theorists have broadly classified the social influence into three forms – conformity, compliance, and obedience. The key difference between them is as below.

  1. Conformity – Behavior change in response to real or imagined social pressure.
  2. Compliance – Behavior change in response to an explicit request to perform some action.
  3. Obedience – Behavior change in response to an Extreme pressure demand to perform some action.

Social influence varies according to how much pressure is involved. Imitation involves no pressure, conformity involves peer pressure, compliance involves an explicit request to perform some behavior, and obedience is a response to a direct order to perform some action.

In other words, Imitation is the behavior change in the absence of social pressure. The pressure for a behavioural change increases from Conformity → Obedience. Obedience the most direct form of social influence, Conformity is the most indirect form of social influence; compliance is in-between the two.

Social Persuasion

Persuasion refers to an active attempt to change another person’s attitudes, beliefs, or feelings, usually via some form of communication. Typically, persuasion is treated as a form distinct from that of the other three forms of social influence. As you can rightly guess, it is more related to conformity and compliance.

Persuasion is an active form of influence and is internal in its focus. Change in people’s beliefs or feelings are the goal of such influence.

Systematic persuasion is the process through which attitudes or beliefs are leveraged by appeals to logic and reason. Heuristic persuasion, on the other hand, is the process through which attitudes or beliefs are leveraged by appeals to habit or emotion.

To sum up:

  • Attitude is your view or belief about what you like or dislike.
  • You may note that attitude always comes with a positive or negative emotion.
  • Attitude has 3 components – cognitive, affective, and behavioural.
  • The affective (emotional) component may even overcome negative cognitive rationales (if any).
  • It’s good to have positive attitudes – and it serves many functions.
  • Attitude is internal while behavior is external.
  • Attitudes and actual behavior are not always perfectly aligned.
  • It is possible to change the attitude and thus behavior.
  • The theories of learning, persuasion, or dissonance can be used to bring an attitudinal or behavioural change.
  • Social Influence and Persuasion can change attitude or behavior of people.

Ethics in Public Administration

Ethical Concerns in Public Administration:

Public administration is a profession that offers an unusual array of opportunities to make moral or immoral decisions, to make ethical or unethical choices, to do good or evil things to people. Public servants are servants of the public, of government, of their immediate organisations and of the law. Their role is traditionally conceptualized as part of an interconnected structure existing alongside but outside of the private sphere. In Western society, the dominance of democratic theory means that it is assumed public servants share the values of wider society, whilst also recognizing the need for representative government (Gortner 2001). Though public servants perform a number of tasks and undertake a multitude of responsibilities, there are common elements to their work.

‘International Code of Conduct for Public Officials’ has following general principles:

  1. A public office, as defined by national law, is a position of trust, implying a duty to act in the public interest. Therefore, the ultimate loyalty of public officials shall be to the public interests of their country as expressed through the democratic institutions of government.
  2. Public officials shall ensure that they perform their duties and functions efficiently, effectively and with integrity, in accordance with laws or administrative policies. They shall at all times seek to ensure that public resources for which they are responsible are administered in the most effective and efficient manner.
  3. Public officials shall be attentive, fair and impartial in the performance of their functions and, in particular, in their relations with the public. They shall at no time afford any undue preferential treatment to any group or individual or improperly discriminate against any group or individual, or otherwise abuse the power and authority vested in them (United Nations 1996).

Currently, the concept of ethics has extended itself to involve all major areas of human existence. There are certain prominent aspects of ethics in public administration. These are summarised as following maxims:

Maxim of Legality and Rationality: An administrator will follow the law and rules that are framed to govern and guide various categories of policies and decisions.

Maxim of Responsibility and Accountability: An administrator would not hesitate to accept responsibility for his decision and actions. He would hold himself morally responsible for his actions and for the use of his discretion while making decisions. Moreover, he would be willing to be held accountable to higher authorities of governance and even to the people who are the ultimate beneficiaries of his decisions and actions.

Maxim of Work Commitment: An administrator would be committed to his duties and perform his work with involvement, intelligence and dexterity. It is well explained by Swami Vivekananda. He observed, “Every duty is holy and devotion to duty is the highest form of worship.” This would also entail a respect for time, punctuality and fulfillment of promises made. Work is considered not as a burden but as an opportunity to serve and constructively contribute to society.

Maxim of Excellence: A bureaucrat would ensure the highest standards of quality in administrative decisions and action and would not compromise with standards because of convenience or complacency. In a competitive international environment, an administrative system should faithfully adhere to the requisites of Total Quality Management.

Maxim of Fusion: An administrator would reasonably bring about a combination of individual, organisational and social goals to help evolve agreement of ideals and imbibe in his behavior a commitment to such a fusion. In situation of conflicting goals, a concern for ethics should govern the choices made.

Maxim of Responsiveness and Resilience: An administrator would respond successfully to the demands and challenges from the external as well as internal environment. He would adapt to environmental transformation and yet sustain the ethical norms of conduct. In situations of deviation from the prescribed ethical norms, the administrative system would show flexibility and bounce back into the accepted ethical mould at the earliest opportunity.

Maxim of Utilitarianism: While devising and implementing policies and decisions, an administrator will certify that these lead to the greatest good (happiness, benefits) of the greatest number.

Maxim of Compassion: An administrator, without violating the prescribed laws and rules, would establish compassion for the poor, the disabled and the weak while using his discretion in making decisions. At least, he would not grant any benefits to the stronger section of society only because they are strong and would not deny the due consideration to the weak, despite their weakness.

Maxim of National Interest: Though universalistic in orientation and liberal in outlook, a civil servant, while performing his duties, would keep in view the impact of his action on his nation’s strength and prestige.

Maxim of Justice: Executives who are responsible for formulation and execution of policies and decisions of governance would ensure that respect is shown to the principles of equality, equity, fairness, impartiality and objectivity and no special favours are given on the criteria of status, position, power, gender, class, caste or wealth.

Maxim of Transparency: An administrator will make decisions and implement them in a transparent manner so that those affected by the decisions and those who wish to evaluate their rationale, will be able to understand the reasons behind such decisions and the sources of information on which these decisions were made.

Maxim of Integrity: An administrator would accept an administrative action on the basis of honesty and not use his power, position and discretion to serve his personal interest and the illegitimate interests of other individuals or groups.

Ethical Considerations for a Public Administrator

Ethical Democratic Professional People
Integrity Rule of Law Effectiveness Caring
Fairness Neutrality Efficiency Fairness
Accountability Accountability Service Tolerance
Loyalty Loyalty Leadership Decency
Respect Responsiveness Innovation Courage
Honesty Representativeness Quality Benevolence
Probity Legality Creativity Humanity

The categories and values required for each are as follows:

General social values:

  1. Public sector’s contribution to society: Common good, altruism, sustainability, regime dignity.
  2. Transformation of interests to decisions: Majority rule, user democracy, protection of minorities.
  3. Relationship between public administrators and politicians: Political loyalty.
  4. Relationship between public administrators and their environment: Openness-secrecy, advocacy-neutrality, competitiveness-cooperativeness.

Organisational values:

  1. Intra-organisational aspects of public administration: Robustness, innovation, productivity, self-development of employees.
  2. Behaviour of public sector employees: Accountability.
  3. Relationship between public administration and the citizens: Legality, equity, dialogue, user orientation
Free market economy Versus Accountability
Freedom of information Versus Privacy
Public sector codes Versus Ministerial discretion
Public servant Versus Political servant
Information sharing Versus Confidentiality

Value clashes are unavoidable, particularly in organisations performing manifold tasks and with a range of stakeholders. Instead of impeding progress, however, conflict can enhance the quality of decision making through problem identification and deliberation. The challenge for public servants is to handle with and manage conflict and simultaneously make decisions based on the appropriate value-set. For many public servants, managing conflict is something learned ‘on the job’, but training can support in the process of prioritising values in times of crises or difficulty.

Problems of public service values:

Many economists and public service experts have realized that the significance of public values has declined. Bozeman (2002) stated emerging problems of public value failure. These failures occurs when

  1. Mechanism for articulation and aggregation of values have broken down.
  2. Imperfect monopolies occur.
  3. Benefit hording occurs.
  4. There is a scarcity of providers of public values.
  5. A short time horizon threatens public value.
  6. A focus on sustainability of assets threatens conservation of public resources.
  7. Market transactions threatens fundamental human subsistence.

Challenges to values:

Although value conflicts occur in manifold areas and at all levels of the public service, there are specific challenges to current public service values which are considered here. They arise in the context of:

  1. New modes of governance
  2. Market-based reforms
  3. Politicisation
  4. Agencification
  5. Decentralisation/relocation
  6. Changes in HRM and recruitment
  7. ICT.

In Indian context, the civil service personnel are accountable to ministers/elected representatives, who in turn are accountable to Parliament. The Parliament is elected by the people. Thus the bureaucrats serve the people by executing functions which are directed by Parliament in the best interest of its people. Whether it IAS or IPS or any civil service, there are a set of core values common to all. These core values determine the standards of behaviour a person in civil service must follow. Each individual service will have its own set of values which are based on these core values. In Indian terrain where there are so many diverse cultures, treating all people with respect is of paramount significance. This includes giving respect to diversity of people and also giving respect to fellow employees.

The Government of India encourages values and a certain standard of ethics of requiring and facilitating every civil servant such as:

  1. To discharge official duty with responsibility, honesty, accountability and without discrimination.
  2. To guarantee effective management, leadership development and personal growth.
  3. To avoid misuse of official position or information.
  4. To serve as instruments of good governance and foster social economic development.

Let’s have a quick look at the public service values. Of course many values like Impartiality, Transparency, Courage of conviction, Probity, Accountability, Empathy towards weaker sections etc. are expected from a public servant, but let’s focus more on a few which UPSC had asked in Mains 2013.

  1. Integrity: The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. It is the quality of being perfect and undivided. A person of integrity shows steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.
  2. Perseverance: Perseverance corresponds to persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. It is the quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult
  3. Spirit of service: Quality of being committed to public service without any self motives.
  4. Commitment: The state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.
  5. Courage of conviction: The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger or fear with self-possession, confidence and resolution. The term defines one form of courage or bravery, which makes one to take strong decisions without any fear of repercussions. Courage of conviction makes one to admit his mistakes and denounce other’s false actions.

Questions in 2013 IAS Mains:

[A] What do you understand by the following terms in the context of public service? (5 terms x 3 marks each=15 marks |250 words)

  1. Integrity
  2. Perseverance
  3. Spirit of service
  4. Commitment
  5. Courage of conviction

[B] Indicate two more attributes which you consider important for public service. Justify your answer. (10 marks |100 words)

Ethics in International Relations

Ethics in International Relations is a complicated topic. Evidently ethics on a personal level is very different from Ethics on a national level.

For example, while we might go out of our houses to save anyone who is dying on the street, the same logic is not so simply applied when discussing saving refugees who come to our country seeking asylum. While it is an ethical debate, some debate about it using what they call “lifeboat ethics” saying that a country is like a lifeboat with a certain capacity. If you take more people in than the country can “hold” the country will “sink” much like an overloaded lifeboat.

Then there are complications of the legitimacy of International Institutions like the European Union or the United Nations. When these organizations force a country to accommodate refugees, what is the legitimacy of such actions?

Then there is the issue of representation. Some states are more represented than others in such international institutions giving them an unfair advantage over other countries. Often we see larger countries pushing their sense of right or wrong on to smaller countries at the cost of the sovereignty of the smaller and under-represented nations.

Hegemony is the political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others. In ancient Greece, hegemony denoted the politico-military dominance of a city-state over other city-states. The dominant state is known as the hegemon. Wikipedia

Thus when certain states obviously wield more control over these international institutions it is again an ethical question of whether the right action or decision is really being taken. For example, the USA has invaded countries on the pretext of ill treatment of people in that country, however we doubt any country can invade the U.S. on a similar pretext and get away with it.

The international organisations also sanction conditional loans and more powerful countries can impose sanctions as a method to punish a dissenting country. This again is debatable as it is not the politicians or the rich who suffer because of sanctions but the poor.

R2P or responsibility to protect has been a reason given by the U.S. to invade other countries and install their favoured governments in place of dissenting ones, but this entire concept is again questionable as smaller or weaker countries cannot take such actions without consequences.

Weapons of Mass Destruction has also seen a lot of debate on the ethics of it. This is a case of maintaining balance and keeping the enemy scared so that no one makes the first strike. So one country upgrading their weaponry means the neighboring country does the same.

Recommended Reading: Ethics Preparation Strategy for UPSC

Over To You

We hope you get a ton of information from this post. These ethics notes are very useful in the days of the UPSC exams.

Now its your turn to read it and learn the concept if can’t able to understand any concept or leave a comment, we’ll help you as much as we can or the better option is join our course and get personal mentorship, mock test, video lectures.

About the Author

Payal Ghosh

Payal is an FRM and an XLRI Jamshedpur alumnus interested in things as diverse as Waste Management and photography. She has over 16 years of work experience and is passionate about writing, teaching and sustainable living. Helping students and seeing them succeed makes gives her motivation to push herself further.

View All Articles