How to Prepare Philosophy Optional for UPSC | Syllabus, Booklist & Strategy for Philosophy Optional UPSC

In the UPSC CS (Main) Examination, Paper VII and Paper VIII are of Optional subjects. Each of the papers consists of 250 marks. Hence, in total, the optional subject accounts for 500 marks. Philosophy is one of the popular optional subjects owing to its relevance and overlapping syllabus with other general studies and essay papers.

The major plus point of opting for philosophy is that a large part of the syllabus is static in nature, so you do not have to worry about preparing current affairs for this optional subject. Other than that, the syllabus is concise and there are plenty of resources available for the preparation.

Philosophy Syllabus For UPSC CS (Main) Examination

Paper I: History and Problems of Philosophy

Plato and Aristotle

Ideas; Substance; Form and Matter; Causation; Actuality and Potentiality

Rationalism (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz)

Cartesian Method and Certain Knowledge; Substance; God; Mind-Body Dualism; Determinism and Freedom

Empiricism (Locke, Berkeley, Hume)

Theory of Knowledge; Substance and Qualities; Self and God; Scepticism.


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


Dialectical Method; Absolute Idealism

Moore, Russell and Early Wittgenstein

Defense of Commonsense; Refutation of Idealism; Logical Atomism; Logical Constructions; Incomplete Symbols; Picture Theory of Meaning; Saying and Showing

Logical Positivism

Verification Theory of Meaning; Rejection of Metaphysics; Linguistic Theory of Necessary Propositions.

Later Wittgenstein

Meaning and Use; Language- games; Critique of Private Language.

Phenomenology (Husserl)

Method; Theory of Essences; Avoidance of Psychologism

Existentialism (Kierkegaard, Sartre, Heidegger)

Existence and Essence; Choice, Responsibility and Authentic Existence; Being-in-the-world and Temporality

Quine and Strawson

Critique of Empiricism; Theory of Basic Particulars and Persons


Theory of Knowledge; Rejection of Transcendent Entities


Theory of Reality; Saptabhaòginaya; Bondage and Liberation

Schools of Buddhism

Pratîtyasamutpada; Ksanikavada, Nairatmyavada

 Nyaya- Vaiúesika

Theory of Categories; Theory of Appearance; Theory of Pramana; Self, Liberation; God; Proofs for the Existence of God; Theory of Causation; Atomistic Theory of Creation


Prakrti; Purusa; Causation; Liberation


Citta; Cittavrtti; Klesas; Samadhi; Kaivalya.


Theory of Knowledge

Schools of Vedanta

Brahman; Îúvara; Atman; Jiva; Jagat; Maya; Avidya; Adhyasa; Moksa; Aprthaksiddhi; Pancavidhabheda


Evolution, Involution; Integral Yoga.


Socio-Political Philosophy

Social and Political Ideals: Equality, Justice, Liberty.
Sovereignty: Austin, Bodin, Laski, Kautilya.
Individual and State: Rights; Duties and Accountability
Forms of Government: Monarchy; Theocracy and Democracy.
Political Ideologies: Anarchism; Marxism and Socialism
Humanism; Secularism; Multiculturalism.
Crime and Punishment: Corruption, Mass Violence, Genocide, Capital Punishment.
Development and Social Progress.
Gender Discrimination: Female Foeticide, Land, and Property Rights; Empowerment.
Caste Discrimination: Gandhi and Ambedkar

Philosophy of Religion

Notions of God: Attributes; Relation to Man and the World. (Indian and Western).
Proofs for the Existence of God and their Critique (Indian and Western).
The Problem of Evil.
Soul: Immortality; Rebirth and Liberation.
Reason, Revelation, and Faith.
Religious Experience: Nature and Object (Indian and Western).
Religion without God.
Religion and Morality.
Religious Pluralism and the Problem of Absolute Truth.
Nature of Religious Language: Analogical and Symbolic; Cognitivist and Noncognitive.

How to prepare for Philosophy in UPSC

Broadly, philosophy is divided into four parts namely Western Philosophy, Indian Philosophy, Social-political philosophy, and religious philosophy. Let’s look at the preparation strategy for each of these:

  • Western Philosophy and Indian Philosophy: Both these topics are a part of Paper-1 of the optional paper. In this paper, you’ll have to attempt 5 out of 8 questions along with 2 compulsory questions from each of these sub-parts of the paper. You can cover Indian Philosophy by reading An Introduction to Indian Philosophy by Satishchandra Chatterjee and A Critical History of Western Philosophy: Greek, Medieval, and Modern by Yakub Masih.
  • Social-political philosophy and Religious Philosophy: These two form the core parts for paper-II of the optional subject of philosophy. For preparing these, refer to Hindu editorial as well as articles from monthly magazines like Yojana and Kurukshetra. The discourse around the important philosophical topics is often a part of Hindu editorial.
  • Practice answer-writing: After thorough preparation of the above-mentioned topics, indulge yourself in answer-writing. Make use of your notes to write answers and get them evaluated from your mentors and experts.
  • Refer to toppers’ answer scripts: Refer to answer copies of toppers to get an idea of how your answers should be and practice answer writing along the same lines.
  • Enroll in test-series: Enroll yourself in test-series so that you can get your answer copies evaluated and get feedback from experts and mentors.

Booklist for Philosophy Optional For UPSC

  • An Introduction to Indian Philosophy by Satishchandra Chatterjee
  • A Critical History of Western Philosophy: Greek, Medieval and Modern by Yakub Masih
  • A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy by Chandradhar Sharma
  • Contemporary Indian Philosophy by Basant Kumar Lal
  • An Introduction to Political Theory by O.P. Gauba
  • Philosophy of Religion by John H Hick

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