Ethics Terms and Definitions – UPSC Ethics

Attitude: a settled way of thinking or believing about a thing

Benevolence: desire to do good to others; goodwill; charitableness; kindness

Courteous:  polite, respectful, or considerate in manner.

Conscience: a person’s moral sense of right and wrong, viewed as acting as a guide to one’s behavior.

Contentment:  a state of happiness and satisfaction.

Compassion : sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings of others

Empathy :  the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Sympathy :  feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.

Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others. It goes beyond sympathy, which is a feeling of care and understanding for the suffering of others. Both words have similar usage but differ in their emotional meaning.

Empathy Sympathy
Definition Understanding what others are feeling because you have experienced it yourself or can put yourself in their shoes. Acknowledging another person’s emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance.
Example I know it’s not easy to lose weight because I have faced the same problems myself. When people try to make changes like this (e.g. lose some weight) at first it seems difficult.
Relationship Personal Friends, family and community ( the experience of others) .
Nursing context Relating with your patient because you have been in a similar situation or experience Comforting your patient or their family
Scope Personal, It can be one to many in some circumstances From either one to another person or one to many (or one to a group).


Empathy is when you try to understand how the particular individual may be feeling. You may very well imagine yourself in the same situation, developing in your mind the same emotions as the person you are feeling empathy for. By showing your empathy, you are creating a passive emotion towards an individual. Although you feel the same emotions, you do not take actions on your feelings; you do nothing to alleviate the emotions of the person you are feeling empathy for.

Compassion is a word used to express the same feeling as empathy. Yet when you feel compassion, you have more of a desire to take action. You can understand a person’s pain. You place yourself in the shoes of the individual, but you feel that you want to achieve more. Compassion is an emotion which calls for action.

Both sympathy and empathy are acts of feelings. With sympathy though, you feel for the person. You pity or feel sorry for them but you do not necessarily understand what they are actually feeling. As a result of this you tend to have no choice but feel sympathetic for the person because you do not understand the problem or predicament that they are presently having.

With empathy to an extent you are placing yourself in the persons place, you have a good sense of how they feel, and you also understand their feelings to some degree.

Courage:  the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear

Convenience : the state of being able to proceed with something without difficulty. Ease. Comfort

Complacency : an instance of usually unaware self-satisfaction.

Confidence In Reason: Confidence that, in the long run, one’s own higher interests and those of humankind at large will be best served by giving the freest play to reason, by encouraging people to come to their own conclusions by developing their own rational faculties; faith that, with proper encouragement and cultivation, people can learn to think for themselves, to form rational viewpoints, draw reasonable conclusions, think coherently and logically, persuade each other by reason and become reasonable persons, despite the deep-seated obstacles in the native character of the human mind and in society as we know it.

Caring: displaying kindness and concern for others.

Commitment: the quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.

Dexterity : skill in performing tasks, especially with the hands.

Discretion the freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation.

Dignity: the quality of being worthy of honor or respect.

Discipline: to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.

Excellence : the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.

Equality : the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities.

Equity : Equity represents fairness with consideration for weaker sections. It focuses on equality of outcomes. This involves factoring in aspects of the system that have put particular groups at a disadvantage.


According to cognitive versions of ethical subjectivism, the truth of moral statements depends upon people’s values, attitudes, feelings, or beliefs.

According to the ethical objectivist, the truth or falsity of typical moral judgments does not depend upon the beliefs or feelings of any person or group of persons.

Fair mindedness: Having a consciousness of the need to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to one’s own feelings or vested interests, or the feelings or vested interests of one’s friends, community or nation; implies adherence to intellectual standards without reference to one’s own advantage or the advantage of one’s group.

Fairness:  is the quality of making judgments that are free from discrimination.

Favoritism: the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another.

Honesty : Quality of being free of deceit; truthful and sincere.

Humanity: the quality of being humane; benevolence; compassion

Humanism:  a rationalist outlook attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.

Involvement : participating

Intelligence :  the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

Integrity :  the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.

Intellectual Humility: Having a consciousness of the limits of one’s knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one’s native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively; sensitivity to bias, prejudice and limitations of one’s viewpoint. Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one’s beliefs.

Intellectual Courage: Having a consciousness of the need to face and fairly address ideas, beliefs or viewpoints toward which we have strong negative emotions and to which we have not given a serious hearing. This courage is connected with the recognition that ideas considered dangerous or absurd are sometimes rationally justified (in whole or in part) and that conclusions and beliefs inculcated in us are sometimes false or misleading. To determine for ourselves which is which, we must not passively and uncritically “accept” what we have “learned.” Intellectual courage comes into play here, because inevitably we will come to see some truth in some ideas considered dangerous and absurd, and distortion or falsity in some ideas strongly held in our social group. We need courage to be true to our own thinking in such circumstances. The penalties for non-conformity can be severe.

Intellectual Empathy: Having a consciousness of the need to imaginatively put oneself in the place of others in order to genuinely understand them, which requires the consciousness of our egocentric tendency to identify truth with our immediate perceptions of long-standing thought or belief. This trait correlates with the ability to reconstruct accurately the viewpoints and reasoning of others and to reason from premises, assumptions, and ideas other than our own. This trait also correlates with the willingness to remember occasions when we were wrong in the past despite an intense conviction that we were right, and with the ability to imagine our being similarly deceived in a case-at-hand.

Intellectual Autonomy: Having rational control of one’s beliefs, values, and inferences, The ideal of critical thinking is to learn to think for oneself, to gain command over one’s thought processes. It entails a commitment to analyzing and evaluating beliefs on the basis of reason and evidence, to question when it is rational to question, to believe when it is rational to believe, and to conform when it is rational to conform.

Intellectual Integrity: Recognition of the need to be true to one’s own thinking; to be consistent in the intellectual standards one applies; to hold one’s self to the same rigorous standards of evidence and proof to which one holds one’s antagonists; to practice what one advocates for others; and to honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one’s own thought and action.

Intellectual Perseverance: Having a consciousness of the need to use intellectual insights and truths in spite of difficulties, obstacles, and frustrations; firm adherence to rational principles despite the irrational opposition of others; a sense of the need to struggle with confusion and unsettled questions over an extended period of time to achieve deeper understanding or insight.

Impartiality (also called evenhandedness or fair-mindedness) is a principle of justice holding that decisions should be based on objective criteria, rather than on the basis of bias, prejudice, or preferring the benefit to one person over another for improper reasons.

Justice : Conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude; righteousness

Lawfulness:  being in harmony with the law

Loyalty:  a strong feeling of support or allegiance.

Liberal : willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas.

Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal

Morality: principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.

Moral universalism (also called moral objectivism or universal morality) is the meta-ethical position that some system of ethics, or a universal ethic, applies universally, that is, for “all similarly situated individuals”, regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or any other distinguishing feature.

Objectivity : Striving (as far as possible or practicable) to reduce or eliminate biases, prejudices, or subjective evaluations by relying on verifiable data.

Openness is an overarching concept or philosophy that is characterized by an emphasis on transparency and free unrestricted access to knowledge and information as well as collaborative or cooperative management and decision making rather than a central authority.

Punctuality is the characteristic of being able to complete a required task or fulfill an obligation before or at a previously designated time. “Punctual” is often used synonymously with “on time”

Peace is an occurrence of harmony characterized by lack of violence, conflict behaviors and the freedom from fear of violence.

Perseverance continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition

Persuasion: the action or process of persuading someone or of being persuaded to do or believe something.

Persuade:  induce (someone) to do something through reasoning or argument.

Probity : the quality of having strong moral principles; honesty and decency.

Rectitude: morally correct behaviour or thinking; righteousness.

Resilience :  an ability to adjust easily to misfortune or difficulties.

Reason: the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments logically

Righteousness : the quality of being morally right or justifiable.

Rationality is the quality of being reasonable, based on facts or reason.

Responsibility vs Accountability

The main difference between responsibility and accountability is that responsibility can be shared while accountability cannot. Being accountable not only means being responsible for something but also ultimately being answerable for your actions. Also, accountability is something you hold a person to only after a task is done or not done. Responsibility can be before and/or after a task.

In ethics and governance, accountability is answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving.


Responsibility may refer to: being in charge, being the owner of a task or event.

Respect:  a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Self-regulating regulating itself without intervention from external bodies.

Selflessness : having little or no concern for oneself, especially with regard to fame, position, money

Self-righteous:  having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior.

Spirit of Service: opening your heart, your mind, your resources to the needs of others.

Solidarity:  mutual support within a group, especially among individuals with a common interest

Transparency operates in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed

Truth: being in accord with fact or reality

Utilitarianism:  the doctrine that actions are right if they are for the benefit of a majority. The doctrine that an action is right in so far as it promotes happiness, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct.

Uprightness: the condition or quality of being honorable or honest; rectitude.

Basic Values:

Nolan committee defined standards of public life which serves as a foundation of probity in governance. According to him, “7 principles of Public Life” needed are:

  1. Objectivity
  2. Selflessness
  3. Honesty
  4. Integrity
  5. Leadership
  6. Accountability
  7. Openness




Duty Vs Responsibility: Both duty and responsibility are one’s obligation as both denote something expected out of a person. However, responsibility involves a sense of ”ownership” and duty a sense of ”Imposition”.

Example : while payment of tax is a civic ‘duty’ for every citizen not all understand the ‘responsibility’ attached to it which leads to tax avoidance and evasion

Distributive Vs Procedural Justice: Distributive justice is an act to even out Inequality and Inequity. Procedural Justice is ”fairness” in a process towards an outcome which includes the process towards distributive justice

Example : The food security schemes are an act towards Distributive justice, a fair process to avoid inclusion and exclusion errors (thus avoiding any procedural discrimination) in such schemes is Procedural Justice

Justice Vs Beneficence: Justice is being treated fairly as a matter of explicit or natural right, beneficence is being kind to the other person in charity.

Example : Equal pay for equal work is Justice, an extra monetary/non-monetary benefit to a worker in need is Beneficence.

Rule Vs PrinciplePrinciples are generalised statements on which concrete rules (norms, laws)are based.

Example : Speedy disposal of cases is a universally accepted ”Principle” of Justice, however the same may not be followed unless concretised as a ‘Rule’.


Differentiate between Virtues, Values and Ethics. In your opinion, what is ‘success’ and what ‘virtues’ should an individual strive to achieve and practice in her life to become successful? Critically comment. (200 Words)

Virtues are high moral actions which society, religion and sometime we ourselves want to achieve as an individual.

Virtues are possessed by someone and are exhibited by his/her actions. For ex. Ramayana says that Virtue expected from a king is honesty, truthfulness, rectitude (Maryada), and care for subjects etc.

Values: Value or Value system is notion a society that what ideal behaviour is. Like Indian value system asks one to respect system. Value system is like rules unlike Virtues which are actions.

Ethics: it is knowledge or ability to judge right/wrong based on the knowledge acquired through our education system or cognition. Hence, Ethics or being ethical is not action but a mentality unlike virtues.

Success is a destination which one thinks of achieving it with some efforts. Often people go rough and sad while in the path of achieving success which is not correct, because the journey should be hardworking but at the same time enlightening and happy rather than sadness, tensed and aloofness.

Some Virtues that individual needs to strive for:

  1. Patience is the key, Failure may come and go but we must be patient and hardworking all along.
  2. Honesty because success achieved with honesty is long lived otherwise success achieved with immoral actions is short-lived.
  3. Wider vision toward goal and its efficacy: this is very important, if our goal is narrow vision and not well thought, then we may start looking for other goal abandoning the earlier achievements. This is not good use of our energy and waste of opportunity for others who deserved and worked hard for the goal we achieved and now abandoning.




2 thoughts on “Ethics Terms and Definitions – UPSC Ethics”

  1. Thank You very much IAS 4 Sure. An outstanding job. I’m in the state of euphoria. My thoughts are spreading broader. Very lucid way of explanation.

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