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Why choose Philosophy as Optional for UPSC?

Preparation for the Civil Services Exam is, essentially, a race against time. Thus, the key to success is efficient time management. As far as General Studies Papers are concerned, an aspirant has no choice but to prepare the syllabus extensively and comprehensively on a regular basis. However, one has the autonomy to opt for an Optional Subject of one’s own choice.

The Optional Subject can, significantly, make or mar one’s chances of becoming an IAS. Hence, one must choose the Optional Subject discerningly, with due care and consideration, in the pursuit of coveted aspiration. In this regard, Philosophy needs a special mention, since it is the Subject that can pave the path towards success in more than one way. As an Optional Subject, Philosophy has several points of strength.

UPSC Mains Philosophy – Syllabus, Strategy, Books, and Preparation tips

Candidates choose philosophy as optional since it has the shortest syllabus in the mains exam. It only takes about 2 months to finish the subject, which saves time for the general studies paper. The optional is high on scoring and current affairs do not play any part in the subject.

Points of Strength:

  • In a very short time span, Philosophy can be prepared sufficiently & comprehensively, for once and all with no ado.
  • Students do not require any prior background in the subject to opt for Philosophy as an Optional Paper. Philosophy has the epithet of being the parent of every discipline since every other subject has originated from it. Thus, Philosophy is like the most elementary subject, it is the fountainhead of every knowledge system and, therefore, it does not presuppose any prior knowledge of the subject.
  • As compared to the other Optional Subjects, the syllabus of Philosophy is almost one-third of their syllabi. Further, the syllabus is not only short and precisely defined but the themes of Paper I & Paper II are such that they form a continuum. A meaningful study of Paper I simultaneously results in substantial coverage of Paper-II. Thus, in a limited time span entire syllabus can be covered.
  • The dividends of studying Philosophy is not only confined to its designated 500 marks, rather one can reap the benefits of studying Philosophy in the General Studies Paper IV: Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude, Essay as well as in the Interview.
  • Ethics is one of the principal branches of Philosophy, and therefore after studying Philosophy, a student will be better endowed to deal with the challenges of ethics paper. Philosophy can inculcate a critical outlook towards life and can enable one to become more insightful, self-reliant, and original.
  • Philosophy can bring about a remarkable improvement in the thinking and writing of the students, and thereby can extend substantial help to the essay paper. Further, invariably, themes of the Essay Paper hover around issues of Democracy, Justice, Environment, Corruption, Gender, Religion, Caste, etc., and these are the principal themes of Paper-II of Philosophy.
  • Philosophy can impart the right orientation towards life and, thereby, can enable an aspirant to answer questions of the Interview more intelligently with profound insights. Thus, Philosophy can metamorphose an aspirant into an able IAS.

Find here Best Philosophy Optional Booklist for UPSC IAS Mains

Philosophy Optional Subject Online Course Guide

This course has been specially designed for those who are –

  • Interested in opting for Philosophy as an optional subject with or without an academic background in Philosophy.
  • Facing problems in correlating and connecting theories and concepts.
  • Studied the subject on their own and facing problems in writing standard answers.
  • Facing challenges in unfolding their knowledge to clear basic notions and theories.

How to Write Answers in Philosophy?

  • Brief intro of doctrine.
  • Discuss each aspect of the theory.
  • Draw some interconnection between particular theories.
  • Be critical in your answer.
  • Compare a theory with other theories.
  • Discuss the utility of philosophical concepts in real life.


Know the UPSC Philosophy Syllabus

UPSC Mains Philosophy Optional syllabus
UPSC Mains Philosophy Optional syllabus


History and Problems of Philosophy

  1. Plato and Aristotle: Ideas; Substance; Form and Matter; Causation; Actuality and Potentiality.

  2. Rationalism (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz): Cartesian Method and Certain Knowledge; Substance; God; Mind-Body Dualism; Determinism and Freedom.

  3. Empiricism (Locke, Berkeley, Hume): Theory of Knowledge; Substance and Qualities; Self and God; Scepticism.

  4. Kant: Possibility of Synthetic a priori Judgments; Space and Time; Categories; Ideas of Reason; Antinomies; Critique of Proofs for the Existence of God

  5. Hegel: Dialectical Method; Absolute Idealism

  6. Moore, Russell and Early Wittgenstein: Defence of Commonsense; Refutation of Idealism; Logical Atomism; Logical Constructions; Incomplete Symbols; Picture Theory of Meaning; Saying and Showing.

  7. Logical Positivism: Verification Theory of Meaning; Rejection of Metaphysics; Linguistic Theory of Necessary Propositions.

  8. Later Wittgenstein: Meaning and Use; Language-games; Critique of Private Language.

  9. Phenomenology (Husserl): Method; Theory of Essences; Avoidance of Psychologism.

  10. Existentialism (Kierkegaard, Sartre, Heidegger): Existence and Essence; Choice, Responsibility and Authentic Existence; Being–in–the–world and Temporality.

  11. Quine and Strawson: Critique of Empiricism; Theory of Basic Particulars and Persons.

  12. Carvaka: Theory of Knowledge; Rejection of Transcendent Entities.

  13. Jainism: Theory of Reality; Saptabhan (ginaya; Bondage and Liberation.

  14. Schools of Buddhism: Prati-tyasamutpa-da; Ksanikavada, Naira-tmyava-da

  15. Nya-ya- Vais’esika: Theory of Categories; Theory of Appearance; Theory of Prama-na; Self, Liberation; God; Proofs for the Existence of God; Theory of Causation; Atomistic Theory of Creation.

  16. Samkhya: Prakrti; Purusa; Causation; Liberation

  17. Yoga: Citta; Cittavrtti; Klesas; Samadhi; Kaivalya.

  18. Mima-msa-: Theory of Knowledge

  19. Schools of Veda-nta: Brahman; I-s’vara; A-tman; Jiva; Jagat; Ma-ya-; Avidya-; Adhya-sa; Moksa; Aprthaksiddhi; Pancavidhabheda

  20. Aurobindo: Evolution, Involution; Integral Yoga.


Socio-Political Philosophy

  1. Social and Political Ideals: Equality, Justice, Liberty.

  2. Sovereignty: Austin, Bodin, Laski, Kautilya.

  3. Individual and State: Rights; Duties and Accountability

  4. Forms of Government: Monarchy; Theocracy and Democracy.

  5. Political Ideologies: Anarchism; Marxism and Socialism

  6. Humanism; Secularism; Multiculturalism.

  7. Crime and Punishment: Corruption, Mass Violence, Genocide, Capital Punishment.

  8. Development and Social Progress.

  9. Gender Discrimination: Female Foeticide, Land and Property Rights; Empowernment.

  10. Caste Discrimination: Gandhi and Ambedkar

Philosophy of Religion:

  1. Notions of God: Attributes; Relation to Man and the World. (Indian and Western).

  2. Proofs for the Existence of God and their Critique (Indian and Western).

  3. Problem of Evil.

  4. Soul: Immortality; Rebirth and Liberation.

  5. Reason, Revelation, and Faith.

  6. Religious Experience: Nature and Object (Indian and Western).

  7. Religion without God.

  8. Religion and Morality.

  9. Religious Pluralism and the Problem of Absolute Truth.

  10. Nature of Religious Language: Analogical and Symbolic; Cognitivist and Non- cognitive.

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