Ethics Terms and Concepts for UPSC Exam

This page consists of Ethics Terms and Concepts for UPSC Exam. These terms and concepts should be read before starting preparation of GS paper 4 also called Ethics Paper.

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Ethics Terms and Concepts for UPSC Exam

  1. A posteriori: A way of knowing that a statement is true in which a person does refer to facts, experiments, or past experiences.
  2. A priori: A way of knowing that a statement is true in which one does not refer to facts, experiments, or past experiences. One just figures out or” sees” that the statement is true.
  3. Absolute: (1) In contexts concerning questions of knowledge, this term refers to being completely certain. (2) In the context of ethics, the term refers to the View that contrasts with ethical relativism. It is the view that there are principles of morality that should be binding on everyone, even if no one actually follows them. (3) In contexts of discussions of reality, the term refers to some thing that is beyond mere nature and that is a kind of goal that everything is striving toward.
  4. Act-utilitarianism: A version of utilitarian ethics in which the rightness or wrongness of all acts is judged by whether they maximize pleasure and minimize suffering.
  5. Ad hominem argument: Hominem argument is an argument that focus on a person (or group of people), typically attacking the person. For example, “Joe is a liar,” “Sandra is a hypocrite,” “Republicans are cold-hearted.” Ad hominem arguments are fallacious only when they attack the source of an argument in order to discredit the argument; for example Joe‘s argument against drinking and driving doesn’t carry much weight, because Joe himself is a lush.” When not attacking the source of an argument, ad hominem arguments do not commit the ad hominem fallacy, and can often be valuable and legitimate arguments. For example an ad hominem attack on someone giving testimony (“Don’t believe Sally’s testimony, she’s a notorious liar”) is relevant and nor an ad hominem fallacy; likewise, it is a legitimate use of ad hominem argument (not an ad hominem fallacy) if you are attacking a job applicant (“Don’t hire Bruce; he’s a crook”), a politician (“Don’t vote for Sandra; she’s in the pocket of the tobacco industry”), and in many other circumstances (“Don’t go out with Bill, he’s a cheat and a creep”).
  6. Ad hominem fallacy: See Ad hominem argument.
  7. Aesthetics: The branch of philosophy that examines questions concerning beauty and art.
  8. Agnosticism: The View that there is no way of knowing whether or not God exists.
  9. Altruism: The View that one should aim at performing actions that benefit others whether or not they benefit oneself.
  10. Analytic statement: A statement that is true solely because of the meanings of the constituent words, such as, “all windows were once married.”
  11. Anarchy: In philosophical contexts the form of society in which there is no government and no official laws. It is hoped that all members voluntarily keep themselves from violating others’ rights.
  12. Argument: A series of statements in which one of the statements is to be accepted as true because the other statements are supposed to be true. Arguments are the means that people use to convince others through reason.
  13. Argument from analogy: A kind of argument in which two things are compared and found to be generally similar. Then, since one of the things has a feature that is of interest, the conclusion is that the other thing probably has the same feature.
  14. Argument from design: A way of arguing that God exists based on the premise that the world that we experience has many examples of complicated order which could not have occurred without a designer, who is held to be God.
  15. Artificial intelligence: A branch of technology that attempts to make machines and computer programs that simulate behavior that we usually call intelligent.
  16. Atheism: The View that God does not exist.
  17. Capitalism: An economic system in which ideally the important decisions of what should be produced and how it should be distributed are determined by individuals making their own separate decisions of how to spend their time and money.
  18. Care ethics: The ethical perspective that emphasizes the ethical importance of personal relations and affections and friendships; it holds that such relationships have been neglected and undervalued in traditional ethical theories.
  19. Categorical Imperative: In Kantian ethics, the principle that one should always act in such a manner that one could will that one’s act should be a universal law. (Kant claims that a second way of stating the same principle is that one should always treat other persons as ends in themselves. never is merely means to an end.)
  20. Categorical principles: Principles that hold without qualification and in all circumstances; absolute principles, in contrast to conditional principles.
  21. Causal explanation: A way of explaining why an event happened. The explanation that is offered is in terms of the causes that led to the event.
  22. Cause and effect: Two events are related as cause and effect if one, the cause, comes the effect, and furthermore, the cause makes the effect happen, are the traditional and also the ordinary definitions; they play a major debate concerning freedom and determinism.
  23. Compatibilism: The view that determinism is compatible with free will; we can have free will even if determinism is true.
  24. Conclusion: The part of an argument that is to be accepted on the basis of the reasons and evidence presented in the other part of the argument.
  25. Conditional Principles: Principles that apply only under specified conditions (in contrast to categorical principles); for example, “If you want to be trusted, then you Should tell the truth” is a conditional principle, in contrast to the categorical principle “Tell the truth.”
  26. Consciousness: Being aware of the world and one’s own mental states.
  27. Consequentialism: Any ethical theory that judges the rightness or wrongness of an act on the basis of its consequences rather than on the basis of what principle the act falls under.
  28. Consistency: Two or more statements that can be true at the same time. In matters of rationality consistency refers to making similar judgments in similar situations.
  29. Contingency: The View that some events just occur randomly and accidentally, and not
    because they fit any pattern or fulfill any purpose.
  30. Deism: The View that God does exist and did create the universe and set it into motion, but that this God is not particularly concerned about the actions of human beings.
  31. Democracy: The form of government in which the people participate in the important decisions that affect their lives.
  32. Deontological ethics: Any ethical system that judges right and wrong acts in terms of principles or duties, rather than on the basis of the consequentialism.
  33. Desert: The concept that everyone deserves a particular kind of treatment. There are different standards for determining what people deserve. Among theme are merit, effort, achievement and need.
  34. Determinism: The view that every event in the universe is caused by the events that came before it.
  35. Dilemma: A situation in which a person faces two choices and both of them are undesirable. Divine Command theory of ethics: The view that all values and ethical principles are established by God’s command or by God’s will also known as theological valuations.
  36. Dualism: The view that two basic kinds things exist one that is material and one that is nonmaterial.
  37. Duty: An action that a person ought to perform for moral reasons.
  38. Egoism: See Ethical egoism; Psychological egoism.
  39. Empirical: The view that he ultimate source of every true belief about the world is sense experience. For a belief to be true according to this view. It must be confirmed in some way to sense experience.
  40. Empiricism: The view that the ultimate source of every true belief about the world is sense experience. For a belief to be true according to the view it must be confirmed in some way by sense experience.
  41. Epiphenomenalism: The view that mental activities are not just material process, but are the by products, or mere accompaniments of material process. On this view mental events and process can never cause changes in the physical world.
  42. Epistemology: The branch of philosophy that examines questions concerning knowledge. The major questions are what is the nature of knowledge? Do we know anything? And if we do, how do we gain this knowledge?
  43. Ethical Egoism: The view that the right act is the act that benefits the individual actor; that is, the ethical view that every person ought to act strictly for his or her own benefit.
  44. Ethics: The branch of philosophy that deals with questions of what is good and what we should do.
  45. Essence: The really important features of a thing that make it what it is, and if it did not have them, it would not be what it is. A standard view used to be that part of the essence of human beings was rationality.
  46. Evolution: A scientific theory that claims that complicated life-forms developed as the result of an accumulation of accidents.
  47. Existentialism: The philosophical position based on the claim that “existence precedes essence”- that is, the view that we make and define ourselves by our own choices, rather than being determined or limited by our given characters or histories or natures.
  48. External World: What exists outside one’s own mind, including one’s own body.
  49. Faith: A kind of belief that is not supported by evidence. It is common in religious contexts.
  50. Fallacy: A standard argument for error or deception; usually one that is so common that it has been given a special name.
  51. Fatalism: The View that the future is already set and cannot be changed by anything that is done in the present. The future is thus as set as is the past.
  52. First cause argument: An argument that concludes that God exists based on the premise that everything, including the universe, must have a cause.
  53. Free will: (1) The feeling that people have when they perform an action that they think is up to them. (2) The theory that at least some of our actions actually are up to us.
  54. Golden Mean: The moderate or balanced position that according to Aristotle’s virtue ethics-is usually where virtue resides and is thus an appropriate target for behavior…Read More.
  55. Hard determinism: The variety of determinism that claims that no actions are due to free will. Hard determinists usually claim that the concept of free will makes no sense and as a result, people are not responsible for their actions.
  56. Hypothesis: A proposed answer to some question. William James used this term to mean any possible belief.
  57. Idealism: (1) The View that matter does not exist-that nothing material causes our sensations. (2) The view that the most important forces that cause effects in the human world are not physical ones.
  58. Indetermination: The philosophical view that some events have no cause at all. They just occur.
  59. Induction: A kind of argument in which the premises provide evidence for the conclusion but do not absolutely require that the conclusion be accepted. The conclusion is only more likely to be true than false. A standard example of induction: the premise that every known human being so far has been less than 100 feet tall provides evidence for the conclusion that no human beings are over 100 feet tall. The evidence makes the conclusion only probably true.
  60. Instrumental good: The kind of good thing that is desired just for what it leads to and not simply for itself, such as a trip to the dentist.
  61. Intentionality: The property of being about something. Sentences in a language, beliefs, thoughts, Wishes, and other mental states all have this property. For example, one does not just have beliefs; one’s beliefs are always about something.
  62. Interactionism: The View that mind and body are two different kinds of things that can cause changes in each other.
  63. Intrinsic good: The kind of good thing that is desired just for itself and not simply for what it leads to, such as happiness.
  64. Introspection: The ability to focus and report on one’s own mental states.
  65. Intuition: A belief that one considers to be obviously and clearly correct. This term is often used in ethics.
  66. Intuitionism: The view that ethical truths or principles are known by special powers of intuition.
  67. Knowledge: A highly valued state in which one has a true belief that can be defended against criticisms.
  68. Law of Contradiction: A fundamental law of logic. According to this law, a statement and its contradiction cannot both be true and cannot both be false at the same time. Two statements that illustrate this law are” Elvis is alive” and “Elvis is not alive.” Law of the Excluded Middle: A fundamental law of logic. According to this law, any statement is either true or false. Thus, “there is intelligent life on other planets” is either true or false. There is no third alternative.
  69. Libertarian: One who holds that we have a special power of free will that is strictly incompatible with determinism.
  70. Libertarianism: Another name for the theory of free will, the theory that at least some of our actions are up to us.
  71. Materialism: The view that matter is the only kind of thing that exists, and so-called mental acts and entities are really just material things and processes.
  72. Matter: What takes up space and would exist even if there were no one to perceive it.
  73. Metaphysics: The branch of philosophy that deals with questions of reality-of what really exists.
  74. Mind: A nonphysical thing that is supposed to be the place where thinking, sensing, and feeling take place. A particular mind is considered to be accessible only to the particular person to whom it belongs.
  75. Monism: The view that only one kind of thing exists. This one kind of thing may be just material or nonmaterial.
  76. Morality: A system of rules or guidelines that set forth the most important features of how we should treat other people.
  77. Moral Agent: One who is capable of performing a good or bad moral act.
  78. Moral Realism: In its contemporary form, the view that objective moral facts will prove to be the best possible explanation for our experiences of moral phenomena.
  79. Moral Responsibility: A condition in which one justly deserves punishment or reward, praise or blame; one has moral responsibility in circumstances when it is appropriate that one receive “just deserts” for one’s acts.
  80. Mysticism: The view that there are fundamental truths about the world that are not known through our senses or by reason.
  81. Natural Law Ethics: An ethical theory that counts human acts (and the law and principles governing them) as morally good when they promote the development of our true human nature, maintains that our human nature and its proper development is assigned by God, and holds that they key element of our human nature is our God given rationality.
  82. Naturalism: The view that everything that is real is either part of nature or is built out of things found in nature.
  83. Necessary Conditions: The requirement for something else to occur. Water is a necessary condition for life as we know it.
  84. Noncognitivism: The view that in ethics there is no truth and no objective facts.
  85. Objectivism: The view that there are genuine objective ethical methodology holding that when evaluating explanations, the simpler explanation is (all else being equal) to be preferred to more complicated explanations; alternatively, the principle that “we should not multiply entities beyond necessity.” Or that explanations should not posit the existence of more entities or objects than are strictly required for a satisfactory explanation.
  86. Objective: A point of view in which no individuals’ biases or perspective are allowed to distort the reality of the matter.
  87. Obligation: An action that a person ought to perform.
  88. Occam’s Razor: A guideline for correct thinking that states that one should not invent entities to explain something if it is not necessary to do so. What this amounts to is that one should make as few assumptions as possible and that one should try to keep one’s explanations as simple as possible.
  89. Ontology: The branch of philosophy that attempts to determine what are the basic kinds of things that exist.
  90. Paradox: (1) An apparently sound argument that conflicts with what is generally believed to be true. Zeno’s arguments against the possibility of motion are famous examples of this type of paradox. (2) A statement that seems to be neither true nor false. A famous example of this kind of paradox is” This statement is false.”
  91. Paternalism: The View that restrictions on individual liberty are legitimate when they are justified by appealing to the values and the welfare of the person being restricted.
  92. Personal Identity: What remains the same throughout one’s life that makes one the person one is. There are debates about whether one’s identity can be found in something material or something mental. Some argue that there is no such thing as personal identity at all.
  93. Phenomenology: Having to do with the qualities of a kind of experience. A phenomenological examination of religion would focus on the characteristics of religious experience without consideration of what, if anything, it is an experience of.
  94. Pragmatism: The View that statements should be judged as true according to the value they have for us in believing them. Thus, if it is valuable for us to believe that we have free will, then we should consider it to be true that we do have free will.
  95. Premise: The part of an argument that provides the reasons and the evidence that are the basis for accepting the conclusion. Prisoners’ Dilemma: In game theory, any situation in which players can gain more through cooperation than by each one directly pursuing his or her individual interests.
  96. Proposition: A statement that is true or false and in which everything is clearly specified. Psychological Egoism: The empirical psychological (not ethical) claim that every individual does in fact always act for his or her own benefit.
  97. Rationalism: The view that the source of at least some true beliefs about the world is not the senses; This source is sometimes called reason or the understanding. An often used example of a belief that is true although not confirmed by sense-experience is that flexible objects can be put into an infinite number of different shapes. Refer to rationality.
  98. Rationality: (1) The characteristic of adopting beliefs only when they are adequately supported by evidence. (2) The characteristics of selecting an efficient way to achieve one’s ends.
  99. Realism: The view that certain things or qualities exist independently of human beingsThese things or qualities would exist even if all human beings disappeared or had never existed in the first place.
  100. Reason: (1) Faculty of human beings that is contrasted with the emotions. (2) The disposition of-accepting beliefs only when they are supported by evidence. (3‘) The disposition of using arguments to decide what to believe.
  101. Reductio ad absurdum: A commonly used strategy in philosophy in which one tries to show that a view is mistaken because it leads to a conclusion that is absurd, ridiculous, or obviously false.
  102. Relativism: In ethics the view that moral principles are just the teaching of certain groups, and that there is no principle that should be considered binding on all groups. Sometimes relativism used to mean there is no way to show that a principle would be binding on all groups, and sometimes this term is used to mean that it makes no sense to say that a moral principle should be binding on all groups.
  103. Retribution: A theory of punishment that those who commit crimes deserve certain amount of suffering proportional to the harm caused by the crime.
  104. Rights: In ethics the view that there are certain domains in which every person can act as he or she wishes without interference, such as the right to free speech and the right to own property.
  105. Role Responsibility: Responsibility for a task or project, or responsibility that is attached to a particular role (such as the responsibility of a doctor to her patients); distinguished from moral responsibility.
  106. Rule – Utilitarianism: A version of utilitarian ethics according to which rules and institutions are judged by utilitarian standards (do they maximize pleasure and minimize suffering?) and the rightness or wrongness of individual acts is determined by whether they fit under the rules of beneficial institutions and practices.
  107. Satisficing Consequentialism: A version of consequentialist ethic that holds that an act can be good enough can produce ethically satisfactory results-even if it does not produce the best possible consequences.
  108. Semantics: The subject that studies the interpretations of symbols. In language semantics refers to the meanings of words.
  109. Sentimentalism: In ethics, the view that feelings/sentiments are essential to gaining knowledge of ethical truths. (The term is used in literature with a different meaning; in literature. “sentimentalism” refers either to the excessive use of sentiment or to an emphasis on the natural goodness of humankind.)
  110. Sensation: The final result of processes of sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing. Sensations are generally considered to occur in the mind.
  111. Sense – Data: The information that our senses provide to us.
  112. Situationism: In social psychological research, situationism is the view that human behavior is heavily influenced by the perceived situation of the person; that is, the view that situational circumstances often have greater influence on behavior than does personal character.
  113. Social Contract Theory: A type of ethical or political theory that starts from the perspective of what system of rules or ethical principles would be favored by those drawing up a mutual agreement for governing themselves.
  114. Sociological Relativism: The sociological (not ethical) observation that cultures differ in rules and practices.
  115. Soft determinism: The variety of determinism that claims that determinism is compatible with free will. That means that the very same action can be the result of causes and also be called ‘free’ This view of determinism does not eliminate the possibility of moral responsibility.
  116. Sound Argument: An argument in which the premises are true and the reasoning is valid. This is the best kind of argument and provides the best grounds for accepting the conclusion.
  117. State of Nature: In social contract theory, the mythical situation prior to any socia contract; in Hobbes’ theory, a state of war of all against all, with no rules.
  118. Strawman Fallacy: The fallacy of distorting, exaggerating, or misrepresenting an opponent’s position in order to make it easier to attack.
  119. Skepticism: The philosophical View that knowledge does not exist. Usually there is a reference in the context to a particular kind of knowledge, such as knowledge of what the world is like or knowledge about whether God exists.
  120. Theological voluntarism: See Divine Command theory of ethics.
  121. Utilitarian Ethics: The ethical theory that judges the rightness or wrongness of an act in terms of its consequences in particular, whether it produces the greatest balance of pleasure over suffering for everyone involved.
  122. Value Pluralism: (sometimes called ethical pluralism or moral pluralism). It is the view that there is not a single highest value, and that values do not have a unified order: There are multiple values, all of them legitimate and genuine values; those values may sometimes be in conflict; and there is no objective way of placing those multiple values in rank order.
  123. Veil of Ignorance: In the work of philosopher John Rawls, the “veil of ignorance” is an imaginative device for considering what counts as just and fair in a state or society. Suppose a group of people were planning to form a society, but none of them know anything at all about their own conditions in the society (no one knows his or her race, gender, or ethnic group; whether he or she would be strong or weak, healthy or chronically ill, industrious or lethargic, smart or dull); then from that condition of profound ignorance of their own
    positions or places in the society (from behind that “veil of ignorance”) the rules and principles they would and just (because free of biases and special interests).
  124. Virtue Ethics: An approach to ethics that focuses on the character of the ethical actor and on how good character develops, rather than on duties, rules, and of the right act in a specific situation.

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