UPSC IAS Mains 2020: Important Theory-Based Questions for GS IV (Ethics)

UPSC: GS Paper IV is divided into two sections - theory based questions and case studies. In this article, we have provided important theory-based questions for answer writing practice.

Sakshi Saroha
Dec 2, 2020, 15:03 IST
UPSC IAS Mains 2020: Important Theory-Based Questions for GS IV (Ethics)
UPSC IAS Mains 2020: Important Theory-Based Questions for GS IV (Ethics)

UPSC: The syllabus and pattern of GS Paper IV is different from other GS papers. The paper requires a philosophical yet practical mindset to answer in the exam. The questions asked in UPSC Mains GS Paper IV are of two types- Direct concept related questions which test the candidate’s understanding of ethical issues and concepts related to integrity and aptitude and case studies. In this article, we have provided important theory-based questions that have been previously asked in the Mains exam.


Ques 1 What is meant by the term ‘constitutional morality’? How does one uphold constitutional morality?

Ques 2 What is meant by ‘crisis of conscience’? How does it manifest itself in the public domain? 

Ques 3 What does the quotation mean to you? “An unexamined life is not worth living”. – Socrates

Ques 4 What does the quotation mean to you? A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.” – M.K. Gandhi

Ques 5 What does the quotation mean to you?“Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home.

Ques 6 When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. When there is an order in the nation, there is peace in the world” – A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Ques 7 “Emotional Intelligence is the ability to make your emotions work for you instead of against you”. Do you agree with this view? Discuss. 

Ques 8 What are the basic principles of public life? Illustrate any three of these with suitable examples.

Ques 9 What do you understand by the term ‘public servant’? Reflect on the expected role of a public servant.

Ques 10 Effective utilization of public funds is crucial to meet development goals. Critically examine the reasons for under-utilization and misutilization of public funds and their implications.

Ques 11 Non-performance of duty by a public servant is a form of corruption”. Do you agree with this view? Justify your answer.


Ques 1 State the three basic values, universal in nature, in the context of civil services and bring out their importance.

Ques 2 With regard to the morality of actions, one view is that means is of paramount importance and the other view is that the ends justify the means. Which view do you think is more appropriate? Justify your answer.

Ques 3 What is meant by conflict of interest? Illustrate with examples, the difference between the actual and potential conflicts of interest.

Ques 4 Suppose the Government of India is thinking of constructing a dam in a mountain valley bond by forests and inhabited by ethnic communities. What rational policy should it resort to in dealing with unforeseen contingencies

Ques 5 What is meant by public interest? What are the principles and procedures to be followed by civil servants in the public interest?

Ques 6 “In doing a good thing, everything is permitted which is not prohibited expressly or by clear implication”. Examine the statement with suitable examples in the context of a public servant discharging his/her duties.

Ques 7 Explain the process of resolving ethical dilemmas in Public Administration.

Ques 8 What does each of the following quotations mean to you in the present context?

  • “The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject anything, is not whether it has any evil in it; but whether it has more evil than good. There are few things wholly evil or wholly good. Almost everything, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded. ”Abraham Lincoln ( 150 words)
  • “Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding. “ _ Mahatma Gandhi
  • “Falsehood takes the place of truth when it results in the unblemished common good.” _ Tirukkura

Ques 9Distinguish between “Code of Ethics” and “Code of Conduct” with suitable examples.

Ques 10 “The Right to Information Act is not all about citizens’ empowerment alone, it essentially redefines the concept of accountability. Discuss.

Check: GS IV (Ethics) Book List & Important Resources for Preparation


Ques 1 Increased national wealth did not result in the equitable distribution of its benefits. It has created only some “enclaves of modernity and prosperity for a small minority at the cost of the majority.” Justify. 

Ques 2 Young people with ethical conduct are not willing to come forward to join active politics. Suggest steps to motivate them to come forward.

Ques 3 Without commonly shared and widely entrenched moral values and obligations, neither the law, nor democratic government, nor even the market economy will function properly. What do you understand by this statement? Explain with illustration in contemporary times.

Ques 4 One of the tests of integrity is the complete refusal to be compromised. Explain with reference to a real life example.

Ques 5 Corporate social responsibility makes companies more profitable and sustainable. Analyze.

Ques 6 The crisis of ethical values in modern times is traced to a narrow perception of the good life. Discuss

Ques 7 How will you apply emotional intelligence in administrative practices?

Ques 8 “Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. It all depends on the principles which direct them.” – Napoleon Bonaparte. Stating examples mention the rulers (i) who have harmed society and country, (ii) who worked for the development of society and country.

Ques 9 “If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are father, mother, and teacher.” – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. Analyse.

Ques 10 Examine the relevance of the following in the context of civil service:

  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Fairness and justice
  • Courage of conviction
  • Spirit of service

Ques 11 Discipline generally implies following the order and subordination. However, it may be counter-productive for the organisation. Discuss.


Ques 1 Why should impartiality and non-partisanship be considered as foundational values in public services, especially in the present day socio-political context? Illustrate your answer with examples.

Ques 2 How could social influence and persuasion contribute to the success of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan?

Ques 3 Our attitudes towards life, work, other people and society are generally shaped unconsciously by the family and the social surroundings in which we grow up. Some of these unconsciously acquired attitudes and values are often undesirable in the citizens of a modern democratic and egalitarian society. (a) Discuss such undesirable values prevalent in Today’s educated Indians (b) How can such undesirable attitudes be changed and socioethical values considered necessary in public services be cultivated in the aspiring and serving civil servants?

Ques 4 Explain how ethics contributes to social and human well-being.

Ques 5 Analyse John Rawls’s concept of social justice in the Indian Context.

Ques 6 Law and ethics are considered to be the two tools for controlling human conduct so as to make it conducive to civilized social existence.

  • Discuss how they achieve this objective.
  • Giving examples, show how the two differ in their approaches.

Ques 7 Anger is a harmful negative emotion. It is injurious to both personal life and work life.

  • Discuss how it leads to negative emotions and undesirable behaviors.
  • How can it be managed and controlled?

Ques 8 Discuss Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of seven sins. 

Ques 9 “Max Weber said that it is not wise to apply to public administration the sort of moral and ethical norms we apply to matters of personal conscience. It is important to realize that the state bureaucracy might possess its own independent bureaucratic morality.” Critically analyse this statement.

Ques 10 What do you understand by the terms ‘governance’, ‘good governance’ and ‘ethical governance’?

Ques 11 Discuss the Public Services Code as recommended by the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission


Ques 1 Some recent developments such as the introduction of RTI Act, media and judicial activism, etc. are proving helpful in bringing about greater transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government. However, it is also being observed that at times the mechanisms are misused. Another negative effect is that the officers are now afraid to take prompt decisions. Analyse the situation in detail and suggest how the dichotomy can be resolved. Suggest how these negative impacts can be minimised.

Ques 2 Today we find that in-spite of various measures of prescribing codes of conduct, setting up vigilance cells/commissions, RTI, active media and strengthening of legal mechanisms, corrupt practices are not coming under control.

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of these measures with justifications.
  • Suggest more effective strategies to tackle this menace

Ques 3 Given are two quotations of moral thinkers/philosophers. For each of these bring out what it means to you in the present context.

  • “The weak can never forgive; forgiveness is the attribute of strong.”
  • “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light”

Ques 4 At the international level, bilateral relations between most nations are governed on the policy of promoting one’s own national interest without any regard for the interest of other nations. This leads to conflicts and tension between the nations. How can ethical considerations help resolve such tensions? Discuss with specific examples.

Ques 5 Public servants are likely to confront the issues of “Conflict of Interest”. What do you understand by the term “Conflict of Interest” and how does it manifest in the decision making by public servants? If faced with a conflict of interest situation how would you resolve it? Explain with the help of examples.

Ques 6 What is meant by ‘environmental ethics’? Why is it important to study? Discuss any one environmental issue from the viewpoint of environmental ethics.

Ques 7 Differentiate between the following:

  • Law and ethics
  • Ethical management and management of ethics
  • Discrimination and preferential treatment
  • Personal Ethics and Professional Ethics

Ques 8 How do the virtues of trustworthiness and fortitude get manifested in public service? Explain with examples

Ques 9 Social values are more important than economic values. Discuss the above statement with examples in the context of inclusive growth of a nation.

Ques 10 Two different kinds of attitudes exhibited by public servants towards their work have been identified as bureaucratic attitudes and democratic attitudes.

  • Distinguish between these two terms and write their merits and demerits.
  • Is it possible to balance the two to create a better administration for the faster development of our country?

Ques 11 “A mere compliance with the law is not enough, the public servant also has to have a well-developed sensibility to ethical issues for effective discharge of duties” Do you agree? Explain with the help of two examples where (i) an act is ethically right, but not legally and (ii) an act is legally right, but not ethical

Aspirants can practice writing answers for these questions and improve their answer writing skills for the UPSC mains exam. You can also download the previous years’ papers of GS IV from the link provided below.

UPSC IAS Mains 2020: Previous Year Question Papers (GS Paper IV- Ethics)

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