UPSC Mains Paper GS 4 Paper has ethics subject .Ethics has different dimensions to it according to the thoughts actions and belief. This article will give you details about the Dimensions of Ethics, which is a important part of UPSC mains Syllabus. And UPSC aspirants should understand this subject properly.


  • Meta ethics
  • Prescriptive Ethics (Normative Ethics)
  • Descriptive Ethics
  • Difference between Prescriptive Ethics and Descriptive Ethics
  • Applied Ethics




Meta ethics is described by thinkers as the study of the origin and meaning of ethical concepts. The term "meta" means after or beyond, and, consequently. Meta-ethics is associated with the nature of ethical properties, statements, attitudes and judgments. Meta-ethics examines such themes as what moral questions mean, and on what basis people can know what is 'true' or 'false'.

It 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.



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

It focuses on the innate character of a person rather than on specific actions. Virtue ethics stress the role of one's character and the virtues that one's character embodies for determining or evaluating ethical behaviour.
The cardinal virtues are a set of four virtues derived primarily from Plato's proposal,. They consist of:

  • Prudence: It is also explained as wisdom, the ability to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time.
  • Justice: It is considered as fairness, the most extensive and most important virtue.
  • Temperance: It is called restraint, the practice of self-control, abstention, and moderation.
  • Courage: It is known as fortitude, forbearance, strength, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.

Consequentialism (Teleology)

Consequentialism is the form of normative ethical theories that indicates the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that behaviour. Consequently, from a consequentialist viewpoint, a morally right act is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.

Deontological Ethics

Deontological ethics: Deontological ethics is the normative ethical state that judges the morality of an action based on the action's adherence to rules. It is defined as "duty" or "obligation" or "rule" based ethics, because rules "bind you to your duty." Deontology argues that decisions should be made considering the factors of one's duties and others' rights.



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.

Descriptive ethics investigates people's ethical morals or what actions are condemned in a civilization. It aims to find out people's beliefs about values, which actions are right and wrong and which characteristics of a moral agent are virtuous. Descriptive ethics seeks the explanation of actual choices made by moral agents in practice. It investigates the ethical codes applied by various groups. Descriptive Ethics is a value-free approach to ethics. It is empirical exploration of people's moral philosophy.


Difference between Descriptive Ethics and Normative ethics

Normative Ethics

Descriptive Ethics

Normative ethis is Study of Ethical Actions Study of Peoples Views about moral Beliefs
Analyses of how people should Act Analysis of peoples moral values, standard and Behaviour
Attempts to evaluate or create moral standards and prescribe how people should act Describe how people behave and what types of moral standards they claim to follow



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 

Bioethics is the study of contentious ethics brought about by advancement in biology and medicine. Bioethicists are more involved with the ethical questions that arise in the relationships among life sciences, biotechnology, medicine, politics, law, and philosophy.

Business Ethics

Business ethics also referred as corporate ethics is a type of applied ethics that scrutinizes ethical principles and moral or ethical problems that arise in a business environment. It applies to all aspects of business conduct and is pertinent to the conduct of individuals and entire organizations. Business ethics also has both normative and descriptive dimensions.

Organisational Ethics 

Organizational ethics is the ethics of an organization, and the way an organization responds to an internal or external stimulus. Organizational ethics is interdependent with the organizational culture. Although, it is similar to both organizational behaviour and business ethics, organizational ethics is neither organizational behaviour nor solely business ethics. Organizational ethics articulate the values of an organization to its employees and/or other entities irrespective of governmental and/or regulatory laws.There are at least four elements that create an ethical culture and behaviour of employees within an organization. These elements are:

  • A written code of ethics and standards (ethical code)
  • Ethics training for executives, managers, and employees
  • The availability of ethical situational advice (i.e. advice lines or offices)
  • Confidential reporting systems

Military Ethics 

Military ethics deals with questions regarding the application of force and the ethos of the soldier and are often understood as applied professional ethics. Military ethics involves manifold areas, including the following among others:

  • The laws of war.
  • Justification for the initiation of military force.
  • Decisions about who may be targeted in warfare.
  • Decisions on choice of weaponry, and what collateral effects such weaponry may have.
  • Standards for handling military prisoners.
  • Methods of dealing with violations of the laws of war.

Political Ethics -

Political ethics is concerned with making moral judgements about political action and political agents. It includes two areas. The first is the ethics of process (or the ethics of office), which deals with public officials and the methods they use. The second area, the ethics of policy (or ethics and public policy) concerns judgements about policies and laws. Some opponents argue that ethics has no place in politics

Environmental Ethics

Environmental ethics focuses on questions concerning how we ought to inhabit the world; what constitutes a good life or a good society; and who, where, or what merits moral standing. The field emerged most significantly in the 1960s from an increasing awareness of the global environmental condition.It is concerned with the issue of responsible personal conduct with respect to natural landscapes, resources, species, and non-human organisms. It is a cluster of beliefs, values and norms regarding how humans should interact with the environment.

The above article speaks about the different dimensions of ethics which helps the aspirat to understand how different standards of ethics are maintaned at the country level as well as on global level. to read more of ethics topic Click here