An Introduction to Ethics.


At its simplest, ethics is a system of moral principles. These principles affect how people make decisions and lead their lives. Ethics is also concerned with what is ‘good for individuals and society’ and is also described as a moral philosophy. The term is derived from the Greek word ‘ethos’ which can mean custom, habit, character or disposition. Thus, ethics could be said to cover the following dilemmas:

  1. how to live a good life
  2. our rights and responsibilities
  3. the language of right and wrong
  4. moral decisions – what is good and bad?


  1. Compassion; concern for the well-being of others.
  2. Non-malfeasance; avoiding inflicting suffering and hardship on others.
  3. Beneficence; preventing and alleviating others’ suffering; meeting the needs of the most vulnerable; promoting others’ happiness (strongest toward our family and friends).
  4. Fairness; treating people the way they deserve to be treated; as having equal rights unless merit or need justifies special treatment.
  5. Courage; in opposing injustice.
  6. Respect for individual autonomy; not manipulating rational individuals even for their own good.
  7. Respect; for the Constitution and other laws enacted by legitimate governing bodies.
  8. Honesty; not deceiving anyone who deserves to know the truth.
  9. Keeping promises; that we made freely.
  10. Integrity; upholding our obligations in spite of personal inconvenience.


The Indian term for morality and ethics is ‘dharma’. Dharma comes from the root `dhr ‘, which means to hold together. And thus the function of dharma is to hold the human society together for its stability and growth. Right conduct is essential if the human society is to survive. The dharma in Hinduism is co­extensive with morality. Dharma in the Vedas refers to the highest truth and power and it is very much understood as the performance of Vedic sacrifices and other rituals in the Vedas and Dharmasastras. So Dharma is understood in Vedas as duty par-excellence. Dharma is also generally understood as the duties of humans according to one’s own caste and stage of life (Varnasrama Dharma).

                                                                            And thus many Hindu thinkers say if one does his duty; he will achieve either heaven or a better birth in the next life or even prosperity here and now. Thus the Hindu concept of dharma has been recognized by its very close association with ritualistic and caste-oriented duties. And the purely moral sense of duty is overshadowed. But yet the Hindu thinkers advocate and recommend the practice of moral virtues and moral norms, which make a man as man. These moral virtues are called Sadharana Dharma or universal duties. Hence the term dharma in Hinduism has two connotations ) performance of ritual sacrifices and duties according to one’s own caste and the second is the practice of moral virtues and norms. So when we speak of dharma as morality, it includes all the duties one ought to perform and all the virtues he ought to practice to attain moksa or liberation.


The words “ethics” and “morality” have Greek and Latin origins, respectively. Traditionally they referred to customary values and rules of conduct (as in “cultural ethos” and “social mores”), as well as insights about what counts as human excellence and flourishing. “Ethics” and “morality” are often used interchangeably by us today. But ethics also refers to moral philosophy, i.e., a discipline of critical analysis of the meaning and justification of moral beliefs.

Ethics and morality–along with law and etiquette–are essentially normative, that is, they prescribe human behavior as obligatory, prohibited, or permissible. There’s considerable overlap between ethics and law, and ethics and etiquette. Much of the law embodies ethical principles: respect for basic rights to life, property, and the right of citizens to participate in political life. It’s usually unethical to break the law. A breach of etiquette can also be unethical if it is done intentionally to offend someone simply for one’s own amusement.

Ethics goes beyond etiquette, though, to include matters that nearly every human society considers significant: actions such as lying, breaking a promise or killing someone are more serious than social faux pas. Ethics also has to do with human character and motivation, which in many cases are irrelevant to etiquette and law. And law and etiquette can sometimes be criticized on moral grounds: consider U.S. laws and customs that historically treated African Americans and women as less than full citizens.


  1. Ethical standards for public service should be clear.
  2. Ethical standards should be reflected in the legal framework.
  3. Ethical guidance should be available to public servants.
  4. Public servants should know their rights and obligations when exposing wrongdoing.
  5. Political commitment to ethics should reinforce the ethical conduct of public servants.
  6. The decision -making process should be transparent and open to scrutiny.
  7. There should be clear guidelines for interaction between the public and private sectors.
  8. Managers should demonstrate and promote ethical conduct.
  9. Management policies, procedures and practices should promote ethical conduct.
  10. Public service conditions and management of human resources should promote ethical conduct.
  11. Adequate accountability mechanisms should be in place within the public service.
  12. Appropriate procedures and sanctions should exist to deal with misconduct.


Values and ethics represent what most of us put into practice through our actions every day. They describe the way we strive to work with our fellow employees, our partners and our clients. They explain the spirit that enables us to do our jobs. Our values, what seems desirable to us, what is important to us, what we esteem and seek to achieve, are thus reflected in what we do every day.

  1. As individuals, our values have been formed by our culture in the broad sense; for example, the values we have from our family, our education or our cultural experiences.
  2. As public servants, our values are moulded by the traditions of our democratic government system.

That is why it is important to understand that values and ethics provide a framework for decision-making and leadership.


Ethics is the philosophical treatise which studies human behaviour and tries to determinewhat is right or wrong. It is also called moral philosophy (from the Greek ‘ethos’ and the Latin ‘mores’ which mean ‘custom’, ‘ways of behaviour’, ‘human character’). The importance of ethics is obvious. From as far back in history as we can tell, man has always sought to know how to lead a good life and to draw up rules of conduct. Thinkers of all cultures tried to explain in what this ‘good’ life consisted and, especially, why precisely it was ‘good’. It is not so much that traditional moral values are questioned (e.g. the just’ war, inviolability of life in cases of the hopelessly suffering and of unwanted pregnancies, sexual intercourse only between the legally married, indissolubility of marriage, etc.), but more radically still, that-the very ‘meaningfulness’ of an unchanging and universally valid morality is brought into question. The causes of this modem questioning are hard to pin down. Certainly the spread of education, advances in science and technology, problems arising from modern way of living like the ever-increasing urbanization, easier communication media, faster means of travel whereby people of one culture come in closer contact with people of another culture, etc. are some of the causes.

But moral thinking is intimately linked with philosophical thinking in general, it might very well be that these causes, whatever they mightbe, are to be sought for on a deeper human level. Human person, perhaps, is not so much asking about the morality of this or that human act but, more deeply still, about himself: the meaning of his life, the direction of human history, the significance of the human world he lives in, the ambit of his knowledge and the possibility of his ever getting an answer to the questions he asks. Ethics, of course, cannot dream of suggesting answers to such radical questions. But it might well prove to be a ‘way of approach’ to questions which lie beyond its own field of enquiry.

Probity in Governance is a sub-part of Civil Services (Main) Examination’s General Studies Paper – IV on Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude. This topic will include questions to test the candidates’ attitude and approach to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life and his problem solving approach to various issues and conflicts faced by him in dealing with society.
Under this sub-part, the following broad areas are required to be studies as per the UPSC’s syllabus:
• Concept of public service;
• Philosophical basis of governance and probity;
• Information sharing and transparency in government,
• Right to Information,
• Codes of Ethics,
• Codes of Conduct,
• Citizen’s Charters,
• Work culture,
• Quality of service delivery,
• Utilization of public funds,
• challenges of corruption.
Necessity of Probity
Probity in governance is an essential and vital requirement for an efficient and effective system of governance and for socio-economic development. An important requisite for ensuring probity in governance is absence of corruption. The other requirements are effective laws, rules and regulations governing every aspect of public life and, more important, an effective and fair implementation of those laws, etc. Indeed, a proper, fair and effective enforcement of law is a facet of discipline. Unfortunately for India, discipline is disappearing fast from public life and without discipline, as the Scandinavian economist- sociologist, Gunnyar Myrdal, has pointed out, no real progress is possible. Discipline implies inter alia public and private morality and a sense of honesty. While in the West a man who rises to positions of higher authority develops greater respect for laws, the opposite is true in our country. Here, the mark of a person holding high position is the ease with which he can ignore the laws and regulations. We are being swamped by a culture of indiscipline and untruth; morality, both public and private, is at a premium. It is true that instilling a sense of discipline among the citizens is more the function of the society, its leaders, political parties and public figures and less a matter which can be legislated upon. Even so, things have come to such a pass that measures need to be contemplated.
There are several generally accepted probity principles that serve to maintain the integrity of a process. These are:
• Accountability: is the obligation to be able to explain or account for the way duties have been performed. Government should have appropriate mechanisms in place to show that they are accountable for their practices and decisions.
• Transparency: It is important that the process is transparent to the maximum extent possible so that all stakeholders can have confidence in the outcomes. Transparent, open processes also minimise the opportunity for, and the risk of, fraud and corruption.
• Confidentiality: As a condition of employment, all public servants are under a general obligation of confidentiality to their employer. Accordingly, it is not necessary for members of the Government Project Team who are public servants to execute a confidentiality undertaking in relation to the project. All Government advisors, members and any other third party that is privy to commercially sensitive information must provide a formal undertaking to Government that they will keep this information confidential.
Management of Conflicts of Interest: Proponents have an expectation that Government representatives will perform their duties in a fair and unbiased manner and that decisions they make will not be affected by self-interest or personal gain. A conflict of interest arises where an individual associated with the process is, through their particular associations or circumstances, influenced, or perceived to be influenced, to obtain an unfair advantage for him or herself or another party. Conflicts of interest are often unavoidable. However, provided they are identified early and dealt with effectively, they need not prejudice the process. It is important to ensure that individuals associated with the process are aware of how a conflict of interest arises and their responsibilities to report conflicts, ensure conflicts are adequately addressed, and ensure the manner in which they have been addressed is adequately documented. Policies to deal with potential conflicts of interest should be established at the outset, rather than attempting to manage such issues on an ad-hoc basis as they arise.
The free flow of information is a basic human right. The ability to seek, receive and impart information is crucial for respect of human rights. One way of looking at “Democratisation of Information” is the ability of every person to get the information they need to make their lives better as it helps them in effective decision-making. Another dimension to this is building an information-driven society which has access to all services and facilities with minimum bureaucratic and procedural formalities.
An information-driven society leads to transparency and accountability. This provides impetus to programmes aimed at improving the processes and systems of public bodies thereby improving service delivery. A number of international bodies with the responsibility of promoting and protecting human rights have recognised the fundamental nature of the Right to Information (RTI). While the flow of information has some obvious benefits like increased transparency, accountability, public participation and empowerment, it has some pitfalls too. If the information is used to make allegations to malign public servants or create disorder it can negatively impact the working of public bodies. Adequate checks and balances are needed in the systems to ensure that information is not misused by such elements.
A well-functioning civil service helps to foster good policy making, effective service delivery, accountability and responsibility in utilizing public resources which are the characteristics of good governance. “Good Governance” is being used as an all-inclusive framework not only for administrative and civil service reform, but as a link between Civil Service Reform and an all-embracing framework for making policy decisions effective within viable systems of accountability and citizen participation. Governance reform tends to refer to the improvement of legal and policy frameworks to create proper decision making environment; participatory systems for elements of civil society to become actively involved in policy and programme formulation and their implementation; and an effective and transparent system and process for control and accountability in government activities. It cannot be seen in isolation and it has to be undertaken along with administrative reforms for effective results.
Although comprehensive reform that involves governance, the civil service, and civil society is ideal, it requires sustained commitment from political and administrative leaders. It is also too complex to implement all at once. Few countries have undertaken comprehensive reforms and there are mixed results. The challenge lies in finding and linkages among the governance, civil service and civil society components, determining which require priority attention.


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