“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” – Socrates
Philosophy is one of the optional subjects offered by the UPSC in the civil services mains exam. It is increasingly becoming popular among IAS aspirants for a variety of reasons. Philosophy features as many toppers’ optional subject regularly. It can be opted by candidates from virtually any academic background. This article gives you a guide to the preparation strategy for philosophy optional in the IAS mains exam.
Let us first discuss the pros and cons of philosophy optional in the IAS exam.
Pros of philosophy optional:
- Philosophy has the shortest syllabus in the mains exam.
- It takes only about 2 months to finish this subject and hence you can save time to focus on the general studies papers.
- It is a scoring optional.
- Current affairs do not play any part in this subject. This should come as quite a relief to aspirants!
- Many topics covered under this optional will come in handy for the essay paper. Such topics are democracy, humanism, secularism, multiculturalism, corruption, religion, morality, justice, women empowerment, etc.
- Studying philosophy is especially helpful in the ethics paper.
- By studying philosophy you can get a lot of quotes.
- Most of the paper is theory-based.
- A lot of good study material is available for philosophy.
- Some of the topics can be answered even with general awareness and a good reading habit.
- This subject can be taken by candidates from any background – science/engineering or humanities. You need not have prior knowledge of the subject.
- The success ratio of philosophy in English medium is very high.
Cons of philosophy optional:
- If you are generally not great in writing, it can be difficult to score well in this optional.
- Off late, the UPSC had been asking tougher questions to probably lessen the advantage of a shorter syllabus.
- You need very good clarity of concepts and thoughts to understand this subject.
- You need a genuine interest in the subject to get good marks. (Then again this holds true for all the optionals.)
Suggested strategy for philosophy optional
- Get conceptual clarity on the ideals and prepare yourselves for a lot of writing practice.
- Improve your reading habits if you are not in the habit already.
- As in all the optionals, there are two papers here also.
There are two sections here: Indian and Western philosophy.
Indian philosophy has different schools of thought/philosophy such as Samkhya, Yoga, Nyasaa, Vedanta, etc. You will also have to study about Indian thinkers like Buddha, Shankaracharya, Ramanuja, Mahavira Jaina, etc.
Western philosophy has three classifications:
- Ancient thinkers: Aristotle, Plato
- Modern thinkers: Kant, Hegel, Descartes, Spinoza, etc. Concepts like rationalism, empiricism, etc.
- Contemporary thinkers: Moore, Strawson, Wittgenstein, etc. Concepts like logical atomism, logical positivism, existentialism, etc.
Questions in this paper are direct and often predictable.
Paper II is more general. Here, you should try to find out the philosophy behind issues. For instance, you should know the difference between political science, sociology and socio-politico philosophy.
Two sections of paper II: ‘socio-politico philosophy’ and ‘philosophy of religion’.
Also See | Books to refer for philosophy optional
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