Philosophy Optional For UPSC Optional Syllabus| 2020-21

Philosophy Optional

The popularity of Philosophy as an Optional(UPSC Optional Syllabus)is increasing in recent times. In recent years about 800-1000 people choose philosophy as optional among the 10,000 odd candidates taking the mains. The success ratio is somewhere between 5-9% varying in the past 10 years.

UPSC CSE, sometimes hailed as one of the toughest examinations held in India, sees a couple of millions of aspirants racing for a handful of vacancies. The race is long, tough, and exhausting. It is more of a marathon. And to see the finish line, most will say, hard work is the key. But is it so? Especially when the race is against every shred of odd one can find? What is important at the very last lap is “Smart work”. Any success story will swear by the choice of the optional. Yes, the optional subject you chose can make or break the deal, so choose it smartly. So here are some points to consider before you make this important decision:

  1. Interest in subject
  2. Length of syllabus
  3. Success Ratio
  4. Syllabus overlap with GS
  5. Quality of coaching available
  6. Any academic background

Now that you know the points to ponder upon, you will have to find a subject that will fit all the criteria mentioned above.

When it comes to the UPSC Optional Syllabus, there are many subjects that are popular among the aspirants. One such subject is Philosophy.

Philosophy is the love of wisdom. It is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge. So as an aspirant you need to know what you are getting into before selecting a subject. Some of the pros of Philosophy as an optional:

  1. High success rate – The average success rate of philosophy is better than History, political science, and public administration according to the 2015-16 UPSC annual report.
  2. Short Syllabus – The short syllabus of philosophy enables an aspirant to cover the syllabus faster than other optional. This helps an aspirant to have more time for general studies.
  3. Conceptual Subject – Philosophy is a very conceptual subject. A person with a rational mind will be able to understand the subject very easily. There is no need to mug up anything in the subject. Any person without any prior background in the subject can dive into this option.
  4. No current updates – Philosophy is a static subject and is mostly thinker-based. It doesn’t have any need to have current updates year on year. So it is an advantage over other subjects.
  5. Overlap with Ethics and Essay– The subject overlaps with GS IV-Ethics and also helps is the Essay paper. Paper 2 of philosophy deals with concepts like Justice, Liberty, women empowerment, etc which can be used in various general studies subjects directly.

Philosophy Optional Cons- 

  1. If you are not great with writing, it becomes difficult to score well in the subject.
  2. UPSC has been asking tougher questions to offset the advantage of a shorter syllabus
  3. You need in-depth clarity of the concepts to understand the subject.
  4. You require a genuine interest in the subject.

5 useful tips to crack your IAS examination with ease

Philosophy Syllabus:( UPSC Optional Syllabus)


History and Problems of Philosophy

Western 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.

Indian Philosophy

  1. Carvaka : Theory of Knowledge; Rejection of Transcendent Entities.
  2. Jainism: Theory of Reality; Saptabhan (ginaya; Bondage and Liberation.
  3. Schools of Buddhism: Prati-tyasamutpa-da; Ksanikavada, Naira-tmyava-da
  4. 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.
  5. Samkhya: Prakrti; Purusa; Causation; Liberation
  6. Yoga: Citta; Cittavrtti; Klesas; Samadhi; Kaivalya.
  7. Mima-msa-: Theory of Knowledge
  8. Schools of Veda-nta: Brahman; I-s’vara; A-tman; Jiva; Jagat; Ma-ya-; Avidya-; Adhya-sa; Moksa; Aprthaksiddhi; Pancavidhabheda
  9. 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; Empowerment.
  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. The 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.

How do you prepare for Philosophy Optional?

Paper 1 deals with Indian philosophy and western philosophy. Conceptual clarity is the key to crack this paper. Sticking to the theory of a particular philosopher and linking different theories is the key. Every concept can be written in your own words, which makes the paper short and easy.

Linking the different concepts is very important. The Indian philosophical concepts has to be linked with the western concepts for a good score in the exam.

This paper is high on relevance and needs to be on point. The candidate should not write his own ideas and philosophy on this paper. Here, the questions are direct and often get repeated which makes the paper high on scoring and is predictable. So going through the previous papers and practicing the questions is very important.


Paper 2 is very general and has topics of common interest. Here we should not stick to the facts but to lay out the philosophy behind the issues.

For Socio-political philosophy, it is suggested that you build the answers based on the important terms given in each question. Then link them with the philosophers who have talked on the subject.


It is suggested for long answers, begin the introduction with a quote or an explanation followed by the exact definition. Then the topic should be explained by linking it with other chapters and using diagrams. The conclusion should always be positive with a solution if needed.

For short answers, write the basic definition and hit the core directly. The ending should be a positive solution-based.


Every candidate will need to make different strategies for both the papers. Thorough understanding of the concept is the best way for the subject. Going through the standard text books and revising them multiple times is key as syllabus is less.


  Philosophy optional strategy :

  1. Finish Entire UPSC Optional syllabus and prepare notes for revision. You must have notes for each and every topic.
  2. Multiple revision is the key to success as it helps to remember the key terminology without mugging as that will not help in exam. Remembering crux of a philosopher and reconstructing in exam is helpful over remembering answer.
  3. Go through the previous papers and practice them as questions are often repeated in exam. Answer writing practice with time limit is very critical.

Philosophy optional (UPSC Optional Syllabus) books

  1. A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy by CD Sharma
  2. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy by Datta and Chatterjee
  3. A Critical History of Western Philosophy by Y Masih
  4. A History of Philosophy by Frank Thilly
  5. Introduction to Western Philosophy by Donald Palmer
  6. Social and Political Philosophy by OP Gauba
  7. Introduction to Religious Philosophy by Y Masih
  8. Philosophy of Religion by John Hick
Also read how to choose the optional subject in IAS Main

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