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IAS Mains Preparation Strategy for Philosophy Optional

Updated On -

May 21, 2020

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Sudeshna Bhar

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Out of 25 subjects offered by UPSC, Philosophy is an optional subject which has a comparatively shorter syllabus. 2-3 months is enough to cover it up. Candidates from literally any background can choose this subject as options. The average success rate of this subject is 6-7 % and the average number of candidates appear with this subject is approx 1000.

How many take Philosophy optional?

In the 69th annual report of UPSC, 755 candidates have appeared with Philosophy optional. 53 candidates got recommended which gives a success rate of 7 %.

Year Number of appeared Number of Recommended Success Rate(%)
2017 755 53 7
2016 847 44 5.2
2015 847 47 5.5
2014 908 64 7
2013 736 58 7.9
2012 1116 99 8.9
2011 900 74 8.2
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The average number of applicants is approx 1000 and the average success rate is 7 - 8 % which is better than the other non- technical subjects.

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Benefits of Philosophy Optional in IAS Mains:

Each year, Philosophy has been chosen as an optional subject by Approx 1000 - 2000 candidates. There are several benefits of choosing this subject as optional in IAS Mains:

  • Short Syllabus: When the syllabus is a bit shorter in comparison to other subjects, the time consumption to cover the syllabus is a relatively smaller period. This also helps to provide more time to revise the syllabus. 2-3 months is enough to cover it up.
  • No Educational Background: Another great advantage of philosophy is that candidates with just about any academic background can opt for this optional. Philosophy is an elementary subject and it does not require any prior knowledge. Some of the concepts are very general in nature.
  • Availability: philosophy is quite a popular subject as in degree course too which make it trouble-free to find study materials as well as coaching
  • Open-ended Concept: Philosophy Paper-II is relatively open-ended and so there can be various interpretations and opinions that can be developed while answering. This will give a unique perspective to the answers.
  • General Knowledge: it is one of the topics which can be answered from your general wit and knowledge. This makes it quite easy to adopt. In other words, Philosophy can unleash original thinking in candidates. It can also improve the writing skills of students which will prove fruitful in all papers of the IAS mains. Philosophy is also a very logical subject.
  • General Studies Paper IV: Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude have strong roots in philosophy and once you complete your philosophy optional, 60% - 70% of General Studies IV paper is already covered. You can develop a critical outlook on life and get more insightful and original points.
  • Current Developments: The subject matter of Philosophy is constant and It need not be updated with any current developments as it is required in other subjects.

Moreover, It has immense applicability in essay paper and every year topics related to philosopher thinkers come in the mains exam which makes it really desirable to candidates choose as an optional subject in IAS Mains.

Must Read: How to read a newspaper for IAS exam

Who Should Choose Philosophy Optional in IAS Mains?

There are numerous advantages to choosing Philosophy as an optional subject. Candidates while choosing this subject as optional in IAS Mains, should consider benefits as well as the below-mentioned points:

  • No educational background is required but Philosophy is conceptual and theory-based. Candidates need to understand the logic and the reasons behind the given concept and theory.
  • Candidates should find this subject interesting and develop a unique understanding of their own to write unique answers.
  • Here the writing skill plays a vital role. The scores will depend on how candidates are writing their answers in IAS Philosophy optional.

IAS Mains Philosophy Optional: Syllabus:

The syllabus of Philosophy Optional is divided into 2 papers: Paper I and Paper II

IAS Mains Philosophy Optional : Syllabus: Paper-I :

In one sentence, Paper-I includes Problems of Philosophy, Logic and Ethics.

Important Topics Details Analysis
Plato and Aristotle Plato as a Perfect Greek, What are the Ideas? Realism of Ideas, Characteristics of Ideas, Pyramidical System of Ideas, Example of cave, Plato’s Epistemology as Criticism of Sophists, Example of Vertical Line, Theory of Soul and God, Plato’s Criticism by Aristotle and it’s Evaluation. Aristotle as an Encyclopaedic Genius. Theory of Four Causes and their Coordination. Matter and Form, their relation and results, Concept of God and evaluation of Aristotle's Philosophy.
Rationalism (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) Origin and features of Rationalism, Descartes as Father of Modern Western Philosophy, Philosophical Method, Sceptic Process of Knowing, “I Think Therefore I Am”, Theory of Three Substances, Interactionism and Mind-body Relation. Spinoza and Descartes, Spinoza's Theory of Substance and its Geometrical Explanation, Pantheism, the relation between God and World. Determinism and Freewill, comparison between Pantheism and Theism, Spinoza's theory of Attributes and Modes. Journey of Rationalism from Descartes to Leibnitz. Theory of Substance, It's Features, System, concerning problems and solution. Leibnitz Concept of God and Pre-established Harmony, Evaluation of Leibnitz Philosophy. Identity of indiscernible.
Empiricism (Locke, Berkeley, Hume) Rise and Features of Empiricism, Locke's refutation of Innate Ideas, Epistemology of Locke, Ideas and its Types, Type and Limits of Knowledge, Locke's Three Substances as Matter, Self and God, Locke's Theory of Qualities and Evaluation of Locke's Philosophy. Berkeley and Locke. Berkeley's Criticism of Locke's Material Objects. Idealism of Berkeley. Is Berkeley a Subjective Idealist? Berkeley's Concept of God and Evaluation of Berkeley's Philosophy. Journey of Empiricism from Locke To Hume, Hume's Epistemology. Impressions and Ideas. Hume's Theory of Causation and Scepticism. His Concept of Self and Personal Identity and Evaluation of Hume's Philosophy.
Kant Kant as a Representative of a Philosophical Era. Kant's Critical, Transcendental, Idealism. Coordination of Rationalism and Empiricism, Kantian Epistemology and Possibility of Synthetic A Priori Judgements and it's Review, Concept of Space and Time, Kant's Theory Categories, Paralogisms Contradictions and Antinomies as Transcendental Illusion.
Hegel Definition of Absolutism? Hegel's Absolute Idealism, Identity of Real and Rational, Dialectic Method and it's Review.
Moore, Russell and Early Wittgenstein G.E. Moore as first thinker of Contemporary Western Philosophy. Refutation of Idealism and Defence of Common Sense and Neo-realism. Russell’s distinction between Name and Description. Theory of Description, Indefinite and Definite Descriptions, Incomplete Symbol and Logical Construction, Russell's Logical Atomism, Atom and it's Types, Facts and it's Types, Proposition and it's Types. Theory of truth functions. Wittgenstein a Linguistic Philosopher. In Early Wittgenstein Picture Theory of Meaning and difference between Saying and Showing,
Logical Positivism Logical Positivism as a Philosophical Revolution of 20th Century. Schlick's, Carnap's and Ayer's verification principles.
Elimination of Metaphysics and Linguistic Theory of Necessary Proposition.
Later Wittgenstein Meaning and Use; Language-games; Critique of Private Language.
Phenomenology (Husserl) Husserl a Phenomenologist. Phenomenological Method Epoche and Reduction.
Consciousness and Subjectivity, Intentionality, Avoidance of Psychologism.
Existentialism (Kierkegaard, Sartre, Heidegger) Main Features of Existentialism. Kierkegard's Truth is Subjectivity, Sartre's Existence and Essence, Freedom Choice and Accountability,
Heidegger's Being in the World, Existent Human or Dasein, Inauthentic and Authentic Existence.
Quine and Strawson Quine’s Critique of Empiricism. Attack on Analytical and Synthetical Statement. Two dogmas of Empiricism. Strawson’s Theory of Basic Particulars. Ownership and No-ownership Theories of Person and Strawson Criticism. Person as Primitive Concept.
Carvaka Origin and Sources. Perception as one and only pramana , Refutation of Inference. Materialistic Metaphysics and Hedonistic Ethics of Carvaka.
Jainism Lord Mahavira and Origin of Jainism, Theory of Reality, Anekantavada, Nayavada, Syadavada and Theory of Bondage and Liberation.
Schools of Buddhism Lord Buddha and Origin of Buddhism, Vaibhasika and Sautrantika Under Hinayana, sunyavada and Vijnanavada Under Mahayana. Four Nobel Truths, Astangika, Marga pratityasamutpada , Ksnikavada and Anatmavada.
Nyaya- Vaisesika Scholars and Sources of Knowledge, Scripts, Nyaya Vaisesika as Parallel Schools. Pradarthas and Theory of Vaisesika. Self, God and Bondage and Liberation of Nyaya . and Pramana, Aprama, Pratyaksa, Anumana, Sabda, Upamana, Arthapatti and Anuplabdhi Pramanas of Indian System. Theory of Causation in Indian Philosophy, Satkaryavada and Asatkaryavada,pramanyavada , Khyativada or Theory of Error in Indian Philosophy.
Samkhya Origin and Sources, Dwaitavada of Sa-mkhya, Nature of Prakriti, Argument for Existence of Prakriti and Evolutionism, Nature of Prurusa and Argument for Its Existence and Plurality, Theory of Bondage and Liberation.
Yoga Cittabhumi and Cittavrtti of Yoga.Klesa Samadhi Ashtanga Yoga and Kaivalya.
Mimamsa Scholars and Sources of Knowledge, Abhihitanavayavada, Anvitabhi Dhanvada Tirupati Pratyaksavada and Jnatatavada.
Schools of Vedanta From Veda to Veda-nta .Advaitavada of Shankaracharya. Theory of Bhraman, Ishvara , Mayavada, jiva, Adhya-sa and Bondage and Liberation. Visistadvaitvada of Ramanujacharya, Ishvara , Jagata, Jiva and Bondage and Liberation. Visistadvaitvada of Ramanujacharya , Ishvara, jagata, jiva and Bondage and Liberation.Dvaitvada of Madhvacharya and Pancavidhabheda, Comparison of Madhvacharya with Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya.
Aurobindo Evolution, Involution; Integral Yoga.

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IAS Mains Philosophy Optional : Syllabus: Paper-II :

Paper-II of Philosophy optional is divided into 2 major sections: Sociopolitical Philosophy and Philosophy of Religion.

Section(A) : Socio-Political Philosophy

Important Topics Details Analysis
Social and Political Ideals European Renaissance and Political Ideals. Necessity of Equality, it's Philosophical Meaning and various dimensions. Negative and Positive Meanings of Freedom and its various dimensions, Justice and it's Changing Approach, Thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, John Ralws, Prof. Amartya sen and others. Different features of Justice as a Modern Socio-political Ideals.
Sovereignty: Austin, Bodin, Laski, Kautilya Meaning, Features and Types of Sovereignty, Evaluation of Singular Sovereignty of Bodin and Legal Sovereignty of Austin. Pluralistic Sovereignty of Laski And Kautilya's Concept of Sovereignty.
Individual and State: Rights; Duties and Accountability Individualistic, Idealistic, Anarchist, Totalitarian and Socialistic Approaches regarding relation between Individual and State. rights and its theories and relation with Duties. Accountability and Concerning Problems.
Forms of Government: Monarchy; Theocracy and Democracy Theocracy it's features and Causes of Declination, Causes behind the Rise of Monarchy and it's positive and negative outcomes. Meaning, Definition, Types, Ideals and Merits-demerits of Democracy. Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Democracy. Democracy as a Life-style.
Political Ideologies: Anarchism; Marxism and Socialism What Is Socialism? Developing and Revolutionary Socialism and merits-demerits of Socialism. Sources of Marxism, Process, Objectives, Theories and Evaluation of Marxism and its comparison with Socialism. Anarchism and its basic Features and Marxist, Terrorist and Non-violent or Moral Anarchism.
Humanism; Secularism; Multiculturalism. Rise of These Thoughts, Metaphysical and Epistemological Approaches of Humanism and it's different Types. Origin, meaning and Basic Features of Secularism and Characteristics of a Secular State. Culture, it's Features, Cultural Diversity and it's Reasons.
Crime and Punishment: Corruption, Mass Violence, Genocide, Capital Punishment. Their Necessity in Philosophy. What is Crime? Corruption, Mass Violence, Genocide, different Theories of Punishment and Evaluation of Capital Punishment.
Development and Social Progress. What is Development? Necessity of Scientific Temper and it's Positive and Negative Outcomes. Features and Conditions of Progress and It's Comparison with Development. Discussion over the question that have we actually done the Progress?
Gender Discrimination: Female Foeticide, Land and Property Rights; Empowerment. Difference between Gender and Sex, Gender Inequality and it's Instances, Nature and Bases of Gender Equality. Study of Gender Inequality in respect of Indian Society and efforts for Women Empowerment.
Caste Discrimination: Gandhi and Ambedkar Gandhian Sarvodaya Darshan as a better Socialism and better option of Revolution. Life history of Ambedkar and Comparison of Gandhi and Ambedkar on Caste-discrimination.

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Philosophy Optional Paper II: Section(B): Philosophy of Religion

Important Topics Details Analysis
Notions of God: Attributes; Relation to Man and the World. (Indian and Western). Personal, Impersonal and Naturalistic Notions of God. Discussion over Metaphysical and Moral Attributes of God. Various forms of Monotheism and God’s relation with Man and the World.
Proofs for the Existence of God and their Critique (Indian and Western). Meaning of Existence of God, Cosmological Argument, Teleological Argument, Moral Argument of Kant, Argument of Religious Experiences, Ontological Argument and their Evaluation, Proofs Against the Existence of God and their Evaluation.
The Problem of Evil. What is Evil? Types of Evil Clarification of Problem of Evil, Discussion and Evaluation of Different Solutions of Problem of Evil.
Soul: Immortality; Rebirth and Liberation. What is Soul? Different Types of Immortality, Evaluation of Arguments Given by various thinkers for and against Immortality, Rebirth and Its Possibility. Meaning and Types of Liberation. Detail discussion over Different Paths of Liberation.
Reason, Revelation and Faith. Importance of Reason, Revelation and Faith as The Means of Religious Knowledge, Distinction between ‘Faith’ and ‘Belief’. Discussion over the Mystical Features of Religious Knowledge.
Religious Experience: Nature and Object (Indian and Western). What is Religious Experience? How it is Different from other Experiences? Discussion over Factuality of Religious Experience, it’s Nature and Objects. In both Indian and Western Traditions.
Religion without God. Is Religion without God Possible? Buddhism, Jainism and Humanism as such Religion, are these Religions actually Without God? Critical Examination of Arguments for and Against.
Religion and Morality. What is Religion? What is Morality, Discussions over Questions like, is Religion the Basis of Morality? Are they Complementary to each other? Is Religion hurdle in Morality? Is Morality necessary for Religion?
Religious Pluralism and the Problem of Absolute Truth. Different faiths claiming the Truth, Structure of Religious Plurality, different solutions of Concept and “A Religion”.
Nature of Religious Language: Analogical and Symbolic; Cognitive and Non- cognitive. What is Religious Language? Analogical and Symbolic Theories and Cognitive and Non-cognitive views of various thinkers in respect of Religious Language.

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Study Material for IAS Mains Philosophy Optional:

IAS Mains candidates can check the table below where booklist is provided categorized as per the sections of UPSC Philosophy optional syllabus:

Recommended books for Problems of Philosophy:

  • A History of Philosophy by Frank Thilly
  • Survey of Indian Philosophy by C D Sharma
  • Indian Philosophy, A Counter Perspective by Dr Daya Krishna
  • Indian Philosophy II Volume by Dr S. Radhakrishnan
  • Indian Philosophy by Dr Deo Raj
  • The voyage of Discovery by Dr William F. Lawhead
  • Introduction to Indian Philosophy by Dr Dutta

Recommended books for Existentialism:

  • Existentialism: A Reconstruction by David Cooper
  • A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy- C Sharma

Recommended books for Western Philosophy:

  • A History of Philosophy-Frank Thilly
  • A Critical History of Western Philosophy- Y Masih
  • Contemporary Western Philosophy- Dr. B.K. Lal
  • Western Philosophy by Dr. Y.Masiaha

Recommended books for Social-Political Philosophy and Philosophy of Religion:

  • An Introduction to Political Theory by O P Gauba
  • Introduction to Religious Philosophy By Y Masih
  • Philosophy of Religion by John H. Hick
  • Introduction to Indian Philosophy by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

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Previous Years’ Questions Papers of IAS Mains Philosophy Optional

In the following chart, some links are provided though which previous years’ question papers of 2019 to 2014 can easily be downloaded and take a print out if needed.

Years Name of Paper Link to Download
2019 Philosophy Paper - I Download 
Philosophy Paper-II Download 
2018 Philosophy Paper - I Download
Philosophy Paper-II Download
2017 Philosophy Paper - I Download
Philosophy Paper-II Download 
2016 Philosophy Paper - I Download 
Philosophy Paper-II Download
2015 Philosophy Paper - I Download
Philosophy Paper-II Download
2014 Philosophy Paper - I Download
Philosophy Paper-II Download

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Topic-wise analysis of Philosophy Optional :

Before starting your preparation, topic-wise analysis is important. It will give you a rough idea about the important topics and the weightage of each topic in IAS philosophy optional. This will help you to plan the time table and making predictions of probable questions.

Topic-wise analysis of Philosophy Optional: Paper I:

For better understanding, philosophy optional paper I is divided into two parts: Indian Philosophy and contemporary western philosophy.

Indian Philosophy

In the following table, there is detailed marks division of important topics which have been faced from the Indian Philosophy section.

Topic Analysis of Marks
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Aurobindo 10 15 15 20 15
Schools of Vedanta 50 30 30 15 15
Mimamsa 25 25 20 15 20
Yoga 12 15 20 0 10
Samkhya 22 50 25 10 15
Nyaya Vaisheshika 35 20 30 20 0
Buddhism 0 0 35 25 40
Jainism 10 15 35 45 15
Carvaka 0 10 15 15 0

Contemporary Western Philosophy:

In the following table, there is detailed marks division of important topics which has been faced from Contemporary Western Philosophy.

Topic Analysis of Marks
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Quine and Strawson 0 10 15 20 0
Existentialism 12 20 0 0 0
Phenomenology 0 10 10 0 15
Later Wittgenstein 10 20 0 10 10
Logical Positivism 10 20 0 10 10
Moore, Russell 12 0 0 0 10
Hegel 12 0 0 0 10
Kant 22 10 20 35 40
Empiricism 0 0 10 0 20
Rationalism 12 0 15 15 15
Plato and Aristotle 10 15 10 20 10

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Topic-wise analysis of Philosophy Optional: Paper II:

For better understanding, philosophy optional paper II is divided into two parts: Socio-Political Philosophy and Philosophy of Religion.

Socio-Political Philosophy

In the following table, there is detailed marks division of important topics which has been faced from the Socio-Political Philosophy.

Topic Analysis of Marks
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Caste Discrimination 10 25 35 20 10
Gender Discrimination 50 15 30 10 15
Development and Social Progress 0 15 10 0 15
Crime and Punishment 10 50 0 30 0
Humanism, Secularism 10 50 0 20 30
Political Ideologies 0 35 50 10 30
Forms of Government 50 15 35 10 20
Individual and State 10 20 10 0 10
Sovereignty 0 10 10 20 25
Social and Political Ideals 50 15 25 10 15

Philosophy of Religion:

In the following table, there is detailed marks division of important topics which has been faced from the Philosophy of Religion:

Topic Analysis of Marks
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Nature of Religious Language 50 20 15 15 20
Religious Pluralism 0 30 0 10 30
Religion and Morality 50 15 15 0 0
Religion without God 0 0 0 15 0
Religious Experience 10 15 25 0 10
Reason, Revelation and Faith 10 35 35 20 25
Soul 10 35 35 15 45
Problem of Evil 10 20 25 0 35
Proofs for the Existence of God 50 15 45 15 15
Notions of God 10 20 10 20 0

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Quick tips for Philosophy optional:

  • You can start your preparation to ‘A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy’ by CD Sharma and Introduction to Indian Philosophy by Dr. Dutta for Problems of Philosophy. It is a very good book for Indian philosophy and covers everything well enough for a beginner. You also use other books for reference and critical knowledge.
  • For western philosophy, you can begin preparing to either ‘A Critical History of Western Philosophy’ by Y Masih or ‘A History of Philosophy’ by Frank Thilly.
  • When you answer questions on Indian philosophy, you should be able to produce correctly the Sanskrit terms in philosophy and use them.
  • Try to relate Indian philosophical concepts with western thoughts in your answers. For example, you can relate the concept of Abhava and Bertrand Russell’s negative fact. You can draw parallels between the debate on Abhava between Prabhakara and Kumarila Bhatta and the negative fact debate between Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
  • A good method to follow while answering would be to start creating your answer based on important terms given in the question and then associating them with relevant philosophers.
  • Every chapter has many layers and needs many revisions and subsequent readings. Ultimately, before the exam, only read your notes. This will improve your confidence manifold.

How to write answers for IAS Mains Philosophy Optional papers?

The presentation of answering matters in IAS Mains. Here are some minor yet effective points to make your answers more note-worthy:

  • Answer writing in philosophy requires a good introduction and conclusion.
  • Another aspect is the comparative analysis of one thinker with another.
  • In conclusion, you should talk about the significance or utility of the theory.
  • Read from the same sources a number of times, rather than go for new books. It takes 5-6 readings to understand one topic in Philosophy to go in depths.
  • Prepare your own notes from the mentioned sources, for each topic. So, from the exam point of view, Make 40 sets for the 40 chapters (Thinker) of both papers.
  • Philosophical terms can be a bit tricky. Find your own way to remember them and also use those terms as much possible.

Though the optional has defined and short syllabus, but it is stuffed with technical terms, and it requires an in-depth understanding, as well as the ability to connect one concept with another.

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Challenges of Philosophy as Optional Subject:

Though it has numerous sides which makes it a popular non-technical subject among IAS Mains Candidates, it also has some challenges which might give you obstacles while preparing:

  • Increasing competition: Since more candidates are opting for the subject these days, you need to present innovative and genuine answers in the paper to outshine others.
  • Paper-II scores have been really dismal in recent years. The checking has become really tough.
  • Since the syllabus itself is short, UPSC is coming up with peculiar and tough questions to test the candidates.

FAQs related to Philosophy Optional:

Ques. Is coaching necessary for philosophy optional?

Ans. Coaching is highly recommended for philosophy optional. It is difficult to self-study due to the vastness of the syllabus. A lot of self-effort and dedication is required to clear the examination. Begin early and aim to complete the entire syllabus comprehensively.

Ques. What is the highest score of Philosophy optional in IAS Mains?

Ans. Juhi Jalota secured 306 Marks in Philosophy optional in CSE-2017 and secured AIR 122.

Ques. Who got the highest marks in UPSC ever?

Ans. Anudeep Durishetty, topper for UPSC 2017, scored 1126 (55.60%) out of 2025 marks. He scored 950 out of 1750 marks in Mains and 176 out of 275 in the personality test.

Ques. How many IAS are selected every year?

Ans. Around 180 candidates have been selected in the Indian Administrative Services each year.

Ques. Are 6 months enough for Philosophy optional?

Ans. Though it depends on the candidates’ ability and interest, 6 months is enough to study and cover the philosophy. In the first 3 months, the syllabus is expected to be completed. So use the rest of the period for practice answer writing and revising.

*The article might have information for the previous academic years, please refer the official website of the exam.