Moral Thinkers and Philosophers from India and the World

In this blog post we are going to look at the major moral thinkers and philosophers from India and the world that are important for your UPSC Mains General Studies Paper-IV preparation.

In this blog post, we are going to look at the major moral thinkers and philosophers from India and the world that are important for your UPSC Mains General Studies Paper-IV preparation. 

It is common knowledge that understanding the contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers adds value to your GS Paper-IV preparation. However, it is not limited to Ethics alone. Quoting thinkers like Gandhi, Kautilya, Socrates, and many others can elevate your answers for every paper, provided you know where and when to insert them. 

Therefore, it is a must to thoroughly understand each thinker and philosopher’s perspective along with the meaning and application of what they said and wrote. Questions, where you have to link moral thinkers and philosophers, can be asked from the static syllabus as well as from the Current Affairs section. 

Moreover, as a general rule, displaying your knowledge of early and modern philosophies and being able to connect them with recent events shows good comprehension and analytical thinking; two skills every examiner looks for in an aspiring civil servant.

Before we begin, you must have a look at this post as it is relevant to your preparation. Since you are preparing for your Mains exam, here is a list of important World History topics that you should not miss. 

Moving on, given below is the list of moral thinkers and philosophers we are going to go through in this blog post. 

Moral Thinkers and Philosophers 
No.IndiaWorld
1. KautilyaSocrates
2.ThiruvalluvarPlato
3. Swami VivekanandaAristotle
4. GandhijiKarl Marx 
5. Jawaharlal NehruJohn Stuart Mill
6. Amartya SenJohn Rawls 
7.MahaviraMax Weber
8. Gautam BuddhaAdam Smith
9.Aurobindo GhoshDavid Hume
10. Sarvepalli RadhakrishnanImmanuel Kant
A list of prominent Moral Thinkers and Philosophers from India and Around the World

Without delaying any further let us start with the moral thinkers and philosophers from India and then proceed to those from around the world.

Moral Thinkers and Philosophers from India

Kautilya

Kautilya, chief minister of Chandragupta Maurya, was the author of Arthashastra and wrote that book on the political economy around 300 B.C.E. Artha means wealth and Shastra means knowledge. In short, it means the science of wealth. He is one of the foremost thinkers from India whom you should know about. 

Kautilya’s thoughts in Arthasastra explain the concept of good governance. For example, he states that “In the happiness of his subjects lies the king’s happiness”. Anything good shall be considered good only if it brings prosperity to his subjects and not good if it brings them harm. He was in favor of a welfare state and maintained that a king should always be accessible to his subjects. 

Tiruvalluvar 

Tiruvalluvar, also spelled Thiruvalluvar, also called Valluvar, was a Tamil poet-saint who rose to prominence in the 1st century BC or 6th century AD, in India. He is known as the author of the Tirukkural or Sacred Couplets. It is considered a masterpiece of human thought and held in high regard in India and abroad. Researchers and scholars compare his work to the Bible, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the works of Plato.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda’s original name was Narendranath Datta, where Datta is also spelled Dutt. He was born on January 12, 1863, at Calcutta and died on July 4, 1902. 

Vivekananda was a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. A strict follower of Vedanta philosophy, his version of Vedanta is called Practical Vedanta. 

He was a Hindu spiritual leader and reformer who attempted to combine Indian spirituality and Western material progress. He was of the belief that the two complimented each other and helped each other grow. He believed that ‘to labor for the benefit of humanity was the noblest endeavor.’ 

Mahatma Gandhi 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or as the world knows him, Mahatma Gandhi, led India to victory and freedom against one of the mightiest powers of the world at that time. 

He has been and still is an inspiration to leaders around the world. Many leaders like Nelson Mandela, and Barak Obama among others have quoted him countless times. His philosophies of Satyagraha, Sarvodaya, Swaraj, his 11 vows, and his seven sins, all remain relevant today. 

In addition, Gandhi is an excellent resource to use when you are solving case studies in the UPSC Mains exam. 

Jawaharlal Nehru 

Jawaharlal Nehru was an idealist but a practical one. He believed that socialism and democracy were complementary to each other and he wanted to build a welfare state for the equal distribution of wealth. 

For Nehru, you should know about the Nehruvian model of development which is based on the four pillars of parliamentary democracy, secularism, economic planning for establishing a welfare state, and the policy of non-alignment. Also, you must include the Nehruvian model of a mixed economy as a separate study. 

Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics for his significant contributions to welfare economics. His work includes developing more sophisticated measures of poverty, determining the causes of famines, and developing practical solutions for preventing the effects of real or perceived shortages of food. 

Since you are reading about Indian and Western philosophers, here is a video on the fundamental difference between Indian and Western philosophy that will be helpful for your Mains preparation. Check it out. 

Mahavira – Jain Philosophy 

Mahavira translates into ‘Great Hero’ in Sanskrit. He was also known as Vardhamana. Mahavira was the last of the 24 Tirthankaras or saviors of Jainism and was a reformer of the Jain monastic community. As a monk leading an extremely ascetic life he taught a doctrine of austerity, promoted nonviolence in all circumstances, and advocated the acceptance of the Mahavratas or the “Five Great Vows of Renunciation.” 

Buddha Philosophy (Ideas of Gautam Buddha)

Buddha means the “Awakened One” in Sanskrit. Gautama Buddha was the founder of Buddhism, one of the major religions and philosophies around the world, especially in Southern and Eastern Asia. Buddha was not a God and the philosophy of Buddhism does not entail any theistic view of the world. The goal of Buddhism was to liberate human beings from suffering. The core teachings of the Buddha revolve around

  • The Three Universal Truths
  • The Four Noble Truths
  • The Noble Eightfold Path

Before we move on to the next philosopher, here is a video that you must watch.

Moral Thinkers and Philosophers can be an excellent way to elevate your essays, and showcase your writing skills to impress the examiner. At the same time, you have to be careful about where and when you refer to their teachings, otherwise you risk ruining the essay altogether and losing marks.

To avoid losing marks and write the perfect essay, listen to this video on ‘Essay Writing Strategy’ by Dr. Awdhesh Singh, eminent UPSC Faculty and ex-IRS officer, Government of India.

All about Essay Writing Strategy by Dr. Awdhesh Singh, Ex-IRS officer, Faculty at PrepLadder.

Aurobindo Ghosh 

Shri Aurobindo or Aurobindo Ghose was born in Calcutta in 1872 and was a yogi, seer, philosopher, poet, and a nationalist. He expounded on the idea of living a divine life on earth through a spiritually evolved self and this was the central theme of his philosophy. 

Aurobindo’s teachings are an amalgamation of idealism, realism, naturalism, and pragmatism. He truly believed that through spirituality, the human life can not only be transformed but turned into a divine life. 

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was an Indian philosopher and politician who was the 1st Vice President and 2nd President of India. Radhakrishnan was one of the most influential philosophers of comparative religion and philosophy in the 20th century. 

He was significant in promoting the idea of a contemporary Hindu identity by defending Hinduism from what he referred to as ‘uninformed western criticism.’  His work stemmed from the philosophies of Advaita Vedanta and reinterpreting the same for modern society. 

That concludes the end of Indian thinkers and philosophers. Let us move to the next section.

Moral Thinkers and Philosophers from Around the World

Let us look at the prominent thinkers and philosophers from the rest of the world. 

Socrates

A Greek philosopher from Athens, Socrates is credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy and the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought. He was well known as a questioner of everything and of everyone. 

The Socratic method of teaching involved conveying knowledge by enabling students to arrive at their own conclusions after multiple questions, probing deeper into a topic till you get to its roots. 

Although he wrote nothing himself, everything that is known about him comes from his followers, contemporaries, and from Plato, his disciple. 

Plato

Plato was a disciple of Socrates and belonged to an aristocratic family in Athens. The political chaos during his days in Athens coupled with Socrates’ death greatly influenced his political views. 

For Plato, you have to understand what he wrote in his books, especially in the three most important ones which are The Republic, The Statesman, and The Laws, his longest work. 

Aristotle

Aristotle was a student of Plato who studied at his Academy in Athens. He is considered one of the greatest thinkers in politics, psychology, and ethics. One of Aristotle’s most famous disciples is Alexander the Great. Aristotle is regarded for proposing the best practicable state. 

He is credited as being one of the most influential philosophers of all time as his work laid the foundation for centuries of philosophy later on. 

Karl Marx 

Karl Marx’s theories have contributed to our understanding of the world and changed the way we see it. For Marx, you must go through the Communist Manifesto, Materialistic Conception of History, and Das Kapital. His theory, Marxism, is a social, political, and economic concept that focuses on the struggle between capitalists and the working class. 

John Stuart Mill

A logician and an ethical theorist, Mill was an English philosopher, economist, and exponent of the theory of utilitarianism. He believed that social awareness, economic theory, and philosophy should play a role in shaping public policy. 

His best-known works include Principles of Political Economy, Utilitarianism, On Liberty, and The Subjection of Women. 

John Rawls 

Rawls was an American political and ethical philosopher and a contemporary thinker. He was best known for his defence of egalitarian liberalism as stated in his most influential work, A Theory of Justice, written in 1971. He is considered the most important political philosopher to have lived in the 20th century. 

Max Weber 

Max Weber can be argued to be one of the foremost philosophers and theorists of the 20th century. Along with Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim, Max Weber is known as one of the founding fathers of social science. In fact, it was through his contributions to the field that new disciplines such as sociology have evolved. 

His work has been significant in establishing social science as a separate field of study. Two of his most well-known contributions are his “Rationalization Thesis” and the “Protestant Ethic Thesis.” His theories had far-reaching effects in the field of political theories as well. 

Since you are reading about Indian and Western philosophers, here is a video on the fundamental difference between Indian and Western philosophy that will be helpful for your Mains preparation. Check it out.

A video on the difference between Indian and Western philosophy by Atul Garg, PrepLadder.

Adam Smith 

Adam Smith was a Scottish economist, philosopher, and pioneer of the political economy. 

A renowned figure in the history of economic thought, Smith is primarily known for his work, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” where he wrote about market-determined wages and free enterprise. “Wealth of Nations” was regarded as the first comprehensive system of political economy. 

Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher. He is considered the last of the great philosophers who contributed to building our understanding of modern society. Since he followed in the footsteps of the great philosophers preceding him, his work is considered the apex of Idealism in German philosophy. 

David Hume

David Hume is considered one of the most important English philosophers who shaped modern thinking. He was also a well-known historian and an essayist, along with being an economist and a philosopher. 

He is remembered for his philosophies of empiricism and skepticism. His aim was to understand how the mind works in acquiring knowledge. He came to the conclusion that developing a theory of reality was not possible and no real knowledge exists beyond experience. 

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher and arguably one of the greatest philosophers of all time and one of the leading thinkers of the Enlightenment era. 

His comprehensive works in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics have made him one of the most influential western philosophers. As a philosopher, he belonged to the Deontological school of ethics.  

Apart from this, we would recommend going through the six Indian schools of philosophy, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Bhagavad Gita as well. Along with being important literary works, they contain reflections on life, ethics, values, humanity, and love.

So there you go. These are a few of the most important moral thinkers and philosophers that you must know about. Hope you have not missed any of them in your UPSC Mains exam preparation.  

Also read: Tips to prepare Ethics paper for UPSC Mains

You can also go through official government websites such as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to understand the different schemes that are currently active. These will add immense value to your Ethics paper preparation and your Mains overall preparation. 

After going through the list of important thinkers and philosophers, the next step would be to test your knowledge and answer writing skills. This will ensure you are 100% prepared and ready to write the exam. 

If you need high-quality mock tests, you can find them on the PrepLadder App. In addition, you will find expertly curated notes, and well-planned video lectures comprising India’s top UPSC faculties. 

For more interesting topics like Moral Thinkers and Philosophers from India and the World, keep following our articles and Telegram channel to keep yourself updated with the latest information about the exam. 

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Arindam Goswami

Arindam is a Content Writer who covers the UPSC category at PrepLadder. He. He aims to help aspirants crack exams and realize their dreams through his work.