Ethics Theory

Project Management: Chapter4: Project Monitoring & Control Process
August 29, 2017
Ethics in Engineering Profession
September 11, 2017
  1. What is ethics?
    1. Ethics vs Morals vs Values
    2. How do we know what is ethical?
    3. Deciding factors in an action
    4. Ethical vs Legal vs Norms
  2. Values and Virtues
    1. Integrity
  3. Ethical dilemmas
    1. Conflict of Interest
    2. How to solve?
  4. Emotional Intelligence
    1. Emotions
    2. Components of EI
    3. What is EI?
    4. How EI helps?
  5. Attitude
    1. Components
    2. Persuasion
  6. Power and Authority
    1. Types of power
    2. Types of Authority
  7. Corporate Ethics
    1. Corporate Governance
    2. Work Culture
    3. Corporate Social Responsibility
  8. Professional Ethics
    1. Ethical Skills
    2. Code of  Ethics and Code of Conduct
  9. Environmental Ethics

1. What is Ethics?

We hear the word ‘ethics’ now and then. Often we confuse between the words ethics, values and morals. In this article, we shall try to clear these confusions.

Ethics is a wider term encompassing values and morals. It is the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles. Ethics is a branch of philosophy which deals with the questions like what is good or bad and why. In our society there are many institutions that tell us what is good or bad, right from our family. Ethics as a branch of knowledge tries to analyse the various systems.The various influences in our ethical thoughts are the social norms, law of land(constitution), religion, knowledge etc.

1.1 Ethics vs Morals vs Values

The difference is explained by the following diagram

1.2 How do we know what is ethical?

In our daily life, we can follow the following principles to know what is ethical

Is it sensible?

  • Use of our own senses to judge the action.
  • For example, you are going to cheat on your friend. Is it pleasant to you and your friend? No. Then the action is unethical.
  • Thus ‘TRUST’ becomes a virtue

Is it desirable? 

  • Check with the Categorical imperative – “Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature.”
  • Which means “Are you willing to permit everyone to adopt the action?” If Yes, your action is moral. If No, your action is immoral.
  • For example, as a civil engineer, you decided to go for a substandard building material, for favouring a particular contractor. Think whether you permit this if the same is going to be your own house? No. Then your action is unethical
  • Thus ‘Adhering to Quality’ becomes a moral

Will it bring greatest good to greatest number of people?

  • Utilitarianism says that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority
  • Finds applications in governance
  • For example, take labour reforms. It will help 90% of workers, where as the 10% who are already enjoying the protective laws will lose. Utilitarian principle will give ‘yes’ for the reforms

Will it violates others basic rights?

  • Based on the belief that all human have the right to live with dignity
  • If an action violates the basic rights of anyone else, it is unethical
  • For example, A railway engineer decided to skip the mandatory safety checks of the track, owing to work pressure. But this negligence can cost life of travellers, if accident happens. He/she cannot take the right to life of others for granted
  • Thus ‘Adhering to safety practices’ is a moral responsibility

The ethicality of an action can be judged in different ways

The branch of ethics which explores morality is called META ETHICS

1.3 Deciding factors in an action

The morality of an action depends on its

  1. Situation
  2. Individual’s role
  3. Scale of the effect of actions

So the action should be judged based on 

  1. The motive of the action
  2. How the action is done, ie the way adopted
  3. The consequences of the action
  4. The situation of the actor, whether he or she had the free will to act
  5. The options available to the actor 

1.4 Ethical vs Legal vs Norms

Ethical or Moral Legal Norms
The actions are judged based on certain principles as discussed above Aims to maintain morality

May be codified or un codified

Has a mechanism to enforce it

Are rules of behaviour in society or organisation

They comes from values.

They are specific like codes of conduct

Every moral things may not be legal

Every illegal things may not be immoral


All legal may not be moral

Ex- Triple talaq, which discriminates women, was legal untill the court declared it as unconstitutional

 Ex: Do not use cell phones in class room

Give seat to elders in a public place etc


The branch of ethics which deals the question what is good and bad is called NORMATIVE ETHICS

2. Values and Virtues

If values are the goal, virtues are the way to get there. Virtues are innate good qualities or morals within people.

For example integrity is a value. Openness,Honesty, Sincerity, Forthrightness, Incorruptibility, Righteousness, Probity etc are the virtues that helps to attain integrity.

2.1 Integrity

Integrity refers to quality of a person’s character

  1. Means absence of conflicts within a person
  2. The person will have clarity in thoughts
  3. He or she will be confident
  4. There will be no conflict and confusion between priorities in life
  5. Absence of integrity makes one vulnerable

3. Ethical dilemmas

Are situations in which there is a choice to be made between two options, neither of which resolves the situation in an ethically acceptable fashion . The common ethical dilemmas are

  1. To prioritize one ethical principle over another
  2. When personal values come into conflict with the professional values – This is normally called as conflict of interest.

3.1 Conflict of Interest

Is a situation that has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person’s self-interest and professional interest or public interest.

The common dilemmas are

  1. Receiving gifts – You are working as an engineer, and the contractor who carries out projects in your department and you are good friends. Can you accept gifts from him during festivals?
  2. Breaching confidentiality – When your spouse or relatives ask for critical information from our office, which is not supposed to be disclosed
  3. Affecting impartiality – You happens to be in an interview panel to select candidates for job, in which your relative or friend is also participating
  4. Reporting malpractices – When you come to know that your friend or relative is doing malpractice, will you report to authority?

3.2 How to solve?

For ethical dilemmas there is no easy answer, and sometimes there is no right answer. You have to decide what’s best for your personal relations and your profession. But some basic principles can be followed. They are

  1. Listen to your voice of conscience – This will buy time and prevents impulsive actions
  2. Be responsible – Do not ignore your responsibility. For example, an engineer has to take care of safety, however compelling the other factors may be
  3. Respect other’s fundamental rights
  4. Give preference to larger good, compared to a smaller good(Social responsibility) 
  5. Declare any conflict of interest early,  in cases like any commercial interests conflicting with office work
  6. Rescue yourself from situations like being in an interview panel where friend is also participating

4. Emotional Intelligence

Academic aptitude (IQ) was once considered the most important part of intelligence. But now Emotional Intelligence is recognised as playing a major role in a person’s success. Today companies worldwide routinely look through the lens of EI in hiring, promoting, and developing their employees.

4.1 Emotions

Emotions  are recorded experiences in the brain. Have salience, ie the emotions are either  +ve or -ve. Emotional decisions seems to be spontaneous or impulsive. These emotions have a significant role in decision making along with reasoning. While reasoning is used in exploring various options; emotions are used to decide among various options.

4.2 Components of EI

The emotional intelligence is the ability to  to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. This requires

  1. Perception – are you correctly recognising your emotions? Won’t you confuse sometimes whether you are sad, or angry or disgusted? Observe carefully own emotions and recognise them.
  2. Attribution – is assigning reasons for your emotions. Hasn’t there be situations where you just do not know why are you sad? Analyse what happened and find the actual cause
  3. Management – is knowledge when and how to use your emotions. Once you have proper perception and correct attribution, you know when and how your emotions occur. Thus you can manage them.
  4. Expression – emotions are to be expressed. There is a way to express it. See good leaders, they are very good at expressing their emotions.

4.3 What is EI?

Thus emotional intelligence is about how well one is managing his or her own emotions and relations. A person with EI,

  1. Can regulate own emotions – Ex- managing anger. 
  2. Understand own emotions, with right attribution
  3. Use emotions in decision making – by using emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour
  4. Understand others emotions – Ex- good interpersonal and leadership skills

4.4 How EI helps?

EI helps a person in

  1. Maintaining good relations with others
  2. Better expression of emotions
  3. Gives mastery over a situation particularly in can of dilemmas. EI plays a major role in handling the unforeseen situations.
  4. Gives confidence to tackle any problems in public and personal life
  5. Achieve self motivation

5. Attitude

  • Are evaluation of various aspects of the social world such as that towards a person, object, event, ideology etc. 
  • It can be either positive or negative. 
  • Social factors have a major role in determining a person’s attitude.
  • For example we Indians do ‘jugaad’ as an acceptable form of frugal engineering. The absence of sufficient resources have created this societal attitude of finding solutions through shortcuts.
  • When the attitude is formed towards a person or social group, it creates a stereotype. 

5.1 Components

Attitude has cognitive, affective and behavioral components

  1. Cognitive(belief) – The act or process of knowing and perceiving. Involves judgment, and reasoning. Example – belief that all exams are difficult
  2. Emotional(likes&dislikes) – Feelings and emotions formed out the believes and perceptions. Example –  hating exams(formed from belief that all exams are difficult)
  3. Behavioural(actions&inactions) – how attitude is expressed. Example –  do not apply for any exams (because of hatred towards the exams)

5.2 Persuasion

Is effort to change the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions or behaviours. The success of persuasion depends on three factors:

(1) source – there is a difference when your mother tells not to eat junk food and when Virat Kohli says the same. 

(2) message – many will not listen to the traffic police’s message to wear helmet, but when it comes along with a emotional tone of care for family, more people obeys.

(3) target – young minds can be easily persuaded, so the packaged foods business mainly target kids in their advertisements.

6. Power and Authority

Power is the ability to get things done despite resistance. Authority is a legitimate power.

6.1 Types of power

The six types of power are

Coercive Power

  • often the least effective but most employed(abused)
  • is forcing someone to do something against their will
  • rely on threats, bullying

Reward Power

  • is the concept of do this and get that
  • is useful as long as the reward is perceived as having value
  • used to increase morale

Legitimate Power

  • is the power of position or role
  • a formalized way of ensuring that there is someone to make a decision and that someone is responsible

Referent Power

  • Is the power and ability for an individual to attract others and to build loyalty
  • created through the values of the individual

Informational Power

  • is the power of having information that another does not have
  • used to measure and improve tasks, processes, and strategies

Expert Power

  • when an individual possesses in-depth information, knowledge, or expertise in the area that they are responsible for
  • is often the most effective type of power
  • they can often persuade others do to things for them using trust and respect

6.2 Types of Authority

Charismatic authority

  • leader is not only capable of but actually possesses the superior power of charisma
  • Ex- Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.

Traditional authority

  • depends on established tradition or order
  • based on some kind of a dominant power
  • Ex – Father in a family

Legal-rational authority

  • Is grounded in clearly defined laws
  • Ex – the President of India

7. Corporate Ethics

The broad area dealing with the way in which a company behaves towards, and conducts business with, its internal and external stakeholders, including employees, investors, creditors, customers, and regulators.

7.1 Corporate Governance

Governance is about doing what is fair in a transparent manner with full accountability . It is about enhancing shareholder value on a sustainable basis while ensuring fairness, transparency and accountability in every action vis-à-vis every stakeholder – customers, employees, investors, vendor-partners, government of the land and society.

  • It results from maintaining transparency in all actions
  • Sound corporate governance is critical in enhancing and retaining investor trust.
  • It includes
    • Making a clear distinction between personal convenience and corporate resources
    • Communicating externally in a truthful manner about how the company is run internally
    • Complying with the laws in all the countries in which the company operates

A three-tier governing system for companies is suggested where

  • A supervisory board is constituted and should lay down the framework for the functioning of the board of directors -It will monitor performance as well as the value system for the company
  • The board of directors manages the affairs of the company and oversee the functioning of the executive management
  • The executive runs the day to day operations.

Role of Independent directors, Company Secretary and Auditors

  • Independent directors are custodians of corporate ethics.
  • The company secretary should ensure compliance with the regulations of the land
  • The auditors will have an objective check on the financial statements prepared by the directors

The regulators

Companies are regulated under the companies act. If they are listed in the stock exchange, SEBI(Securities and Exchange Board of India) watches over certain operations, especially to protect the small shareholders.

The Captain and the Coach  
The Third Umpire  
Match fixing

Poor Performance

Personal gains at the expense of team

The investors and shareholders who lost their money  

The challenges are

    1. Ensuring independence in spirit of Independent Directors and their active participation in functioning of the company
    2. Improving safeguards and disclosures pertaining to Related Party Transactions
    3. Issues in accounting and auditing practices by listed companies
    4. Addressing issues faced by investors on voting and participation in general meetings

7.2 Work Culture

The work culture decides the way employees interact with each other and how an organisation functions.

  • It helps to increase the morale of the employees
  • Morale is expressed in self-confidence, enthusiasm, and loyalty to the organisation. It stems from the people’s conviction about the righteousness or worth of their actions and the hopes of high rewards in the future.
  • It improves the cohesion ie unitysolidarityconnection, and interrelatedness with in the organisation.
  • Improves productivity – helps in higher levels of organizational effectiveness, financial performance and customer satisfaction.
  • It increases positive emotions and well-being.
  • It attracts employees to the organisation.

Work culture is about

  • Beliefs, thought processes, attitudes of the employees.
  • Ideologies and principles of the organisation.

For example,

  • The company which believes in diversity will include more female employees
  • The armed forces work culture is strict hierarchical, where obedience is given more importance

7.3 Corporate Social Responsibility

Is a company’s  initiatives to assess and take responsibility for its effects on environmental and social wellbeing.

  • Corporations can have detrimental effects on the environment. Example Oil spills.
  • Industries such as chemical manufacturing, mining, agriculture and fishing can do permanent damage to local ecosystems.
  • Climate change can also be attributed in large part to corporations. Ex- Power corporations
  • Many corporations have profited from the deterioration of the global environment. 
  • In many cases, harm to the environment and harm to vulnerable communities go hand-in-hand

CSR is the way through which a company achieves a balance of economic, environmental and social imperatives (“Triple-Bottom-Line- Approach”).

Key CSR issues are : environmental management, eco-efficiency, responsible sourcing, stakeholder engagement, labour standards and working conditions, employee and community relations, social equity, gender balance, human rights, good governance, and anti-corruption measures.

8. Professional Ethics

Professionals possess and use specialised knowledge and skill. 

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil”

So the professionals who possess skill and knowledge needs a direction.

Professional Ethics encompass the personal, organizational, and corporate standards of behavior .

8.1 Ethical Skills

Ethical skills are distinguished from the self-help skills and social skills, as those which helps in

  • Ethical sensitivity, involves the skill or ability to interpret the reactions and feelings of others.
  • Ethical judgement – if an ethical situation exists and requires action, he or she must decide which course of action is the most justifiable in the situation
  • Ethical motivation is the desire to be ethical and to act and live in a manner consistent with one’s moral values.
  • Ethical action, involves determining the best way to implement the chosen decision and having the ability and confidence to persist to completion.

To achieve these, the ethical skills should encompass

  • Code of conduct, courage, dependability, duty, efficiency, ingenuity, initiative, perseverance, punctuality, resourcefulness, respect for all etc

Where as the Self-Help Skills are Care of possessions, diet, hygiene, modesty, posture, self-reliance, and tidy appearance etc

The Social Skills includes Good behaviour, good manners, good relationships, helpfulness, No wastage and good environment etc.

8.2 Code of  Ethics and Code of Conduct

Are the two common ways that companies and professionals self-regulate.The professional bodies commonly establish codes of conduct and ethical codes for the guidance of their members.

Code of Ethics

  • Referred to as a Value Statement
  • Acts like the Constitution with general principles to guide behaviour within an organisation
  • Outlines a set of principles that affect decision-making

Code of Conduct

  • Outlines specific behaviours that are required or prohibited 
  • Ex- Forbid sexual harassment at work places

9. Environmental Ethics

Deals with relationship of man with environment. 

Some common questions in environmental ethics are

  • Should humans continue deforestation for the sake of food production?
  • Should humans continue to make gasoline-powered vehicles?
  • Is it right for humans to knowingly cause the extinction of a species?
  • Should we stop all developmental works to conserve the environment?
  • Should we continue to use coal for power generation?

The concept of Sustainable development

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

  • the concept of “needs”, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

The goals of economic and social development must be defined in terms of sustainability in all countries—developed or developing, market-oriented or centrally planned. 

The environmental ethics has personal dimensions such as

  • ethical consumerism
  • minimising waste and recycling
  • love for nature and other living beings etc

The branch of ethics concerned with particular moral issues like corporate ethics, environmental ethics etc, is called APPLIED ETHICS


  1. Balkrishna says:

    thank you sir for providing material on ethics

  2. Utpal Rai says:

    Sir please release pdf version for statics portion also so that we could take printout and study it. Internet is not available everytime.
    All materials are very goof and of high quality. Thank you for such initiative

    • aman says:

      either use pdf crowd addon to save the page or simply print the page,it will be saved as pdf use foxit or just save the entire webpage

  3. Shraddha says:

    Thank you so much sir…

  4. Santosh rai says:

    Thnk u sir…

  5. sagar suroshi says:

    Brilliant examples !!! Thank you

  6. sagar suroshi says:

    How do you decide between utilitarianism and human rights? For example right to privacy provides basic human rights but fails in utilitarianism. Or Rohingya muslim migrant. Deporting them is as per utilitarianism but is a failure of every human to life and dignity.

    • IES GS says:

      You are correct.
      As discussed in the article, deciding between two principles is not easy. This type of dilemma is a real challenge in public policy. The most appropriate action should be a balanced one.

  7. sagar suroshi says:

    Challenge noted!!! 🙂 I have another doubt regarding conflict of interest. Suppose you are holding a primary position for a certain interest and then you also hold a ” office of profit” however for the betterment of the same interest. So will that qualify for conflict of interest. If yes How ?? Example the Delhi parliament secretary issue. It’s established that they the elected members hold office of profit as per constitution but can we also say it succumbs to conflict of interest just by knowing that they hold “office of profit”.

    • IES GS says:

      Actually the rule that those who are holding constitutional positions should not hold ‘office of profit’ is made to avoid the conflict of interests. There is a need for redefining what constitutes the ‘office of profit’ as suggested by the second ARC.
      The issue you mentioned here became debatable, simply because of the fact that the posts of parliamentary secretaries are not recognised as constitutional post. So it qualifies as ‘office of profit’ as per rule. In ethical sense, the post may not create a conflict of interest, but rule wise it does.

  8. Himanshu dagur says:

    Is this enough for ies prelims exam regarding human ethivs or more topic is also there????

    • IES GS says:

      That is enough in theory section.. Try to cover more example problems

      • Amit says:

        Sir I’m a bit confused in conflict of values.
        Is it the conflict between the values followed by two identities and how is it different from conflict of interest ?

        • Amit says:

          And while practicing I faced a lot of questions on governance, good governance and specially on ethical governance. Is this topic imp. ??
          And a topic related to maxims..!!

          • IES GS says:

            IES topics specifically tells about Engineering ethics. So questions will be based on professional ethics than the governance ethics, which is important for the civil servants.

        • IES GS says:

          There is difference between values and interests. Values are different for different organisations. Interests can be personal, professional, business etc

      • Rk singh says:

        Sir at least 100 questions upload kr dijiye for practice please…… Lots of thanks if it is possible

  9. VIKAS ATTRI says:

    Dear Sir,

    Can you please suggest some site for practicing good problems on Ethics as in IAS problems are more descriptive then being optional

  10. samar says:

    sir, these notes enough for eithics subject or do we need to refer any book?

  11. neeraj says:

    so much thank you sir for this nice presentation

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