Strategy for Philosophy Optional
AMBARISH V L VEMURI
Rank – 150, CSE – 2015
Marks : Paper 1 : 124 Paper 2: 125
What are the Sources:
Indian Philosophy – Dutta and Chatterjee, CD Sharma. Notes of Patanjali and Mitra’s IAS Coaching classes.
Western Philosophy – Y Masih for classical western philosophy. Mitras and Patanjali Notes. Then, Internet encyclopedia articles for Contemporary Western Philosophy, some research from Wikipedia as well.
Philosophy of Religion – Notes from Patanjali and Mitras, then, Y Masih, read multiple times. Focus especially on Indian arguments in Philosophy of religion topics through notes.
Socio-political Philosophy – Notes from Mitras and Patanjali. OP Gauba. Then, Wikipedia for every term in socio-political philosophy (from liberty, justice to individual, rights, duties, environmentalism, feminism, etc. ), also read Internet encyclopedia articles. Google research for Contemporary thinkers such as Amartya Sen, Alisdair MacIntyre, and debates on Multiculturalism, Communitarianism, etc.
Recommended. Difficult to read by ourselves. I went to Patanjali, but I find Patanjali to be more useful if you choose Philosophy last minute, I.e. just before mains, and need to be taught in short and simple way. But this is not helpful for getting top marks. For that, have to put lot of self effort. On the other hand, Mitra’s Coaching is better if you are studying one year before your mains, and want to learn the optional syllabus comprehensively. Ultimately, both centres will leave out some part of the syllabus for self study (Patanjali excludes more aspects), and for that self study is must.
Recommended to read more books? Or go through same books multiple times?
Here, I suggest – read the same sources more number of times, rather than go for new books. Read Y Masih for Religion 5-6 times. Remember the arguments. Pointless going for more sources. It takes 5-6 readings to understand one topic in Philosophy. Go for depth not for breadth.
Finished the whole syllabus as well as made first round notes before first attempt in January 2015 itself. After that, it has only been writing answers, adding more content to notes based on fresh and repeated readings of the sources. Revised whole syllabus once more in May-June, before switching to prelims prep. Then, gave test series before mains.
I compiled and prepared my own notes from all the above sources, for each topic. So for the exam, I had 40 sets for the 40 chapters of Paper 1 + Paper 2. Includes all the major points and topics of each chapter. It had many layers, many revisions from subsequent readings. Ultimately, before the exam, I only read my notes. This made preparation very convenient.
This optional has less syllabus, but more technical terms, and they require an in depth understanding, as well as ability to connect one concept with another. For this, multiple revisions (10-20) and in each revision, we should try to see how concepts link with other concepts. This is especially relevant for Paper 2. Cramming content is only the first step. Making mind maps for how one concept relates to others is crucial for writing good answers. I suggest aspirants to spend time doing this rather than merely cramming content.
Hugely recommended. Test series is must. I gave Mitra’s for first attempt, and Vision for second attempt. Mitra’s test series during Feb-April 2015, much before prelims. It was very useful. Sir was able to dedicate 30-45 minutes of personal time to help improve my answers. I have heard that Sir is not able to dedicate time in the test series just before mains though.
Vision IAS – Questions were good. But correction and feedback were very slow and not up to the mark. Would suggest going through the questions and answers if not writing this test series. Do not take the marks seriously, focus on checking model answers and improving your own strategy.
You can view my answer scripts for Paper 1 and 2:
Important Points for Paper 1:
As far as possible, go with Indian Philosophy. Then, read the question, what it is demanding, and answer accordingly. Philosophy is all about articulating effectively.
As far as possible, remember the Sanskrit terms in Indian Philosophy and use them.
If you are able to, link Indian Philosophy with western concepts wherever possible. For example – Abhava is very similar to negative fact of Bertrand Russell. So, the Abhava debate between Prabhakara and Kumaril Bhatt is similar to the Negative Fact debate between Wittgenstein and Russell. Use these in your answers, but verify and be sure that they are appropriate.
For contemporary Western Philosophy, try to watch some videos. Such as in School of Life youtube channel (recommend School of Life youtube channel for Paper 2 as well. Helps clear concepts) and some sources from Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, as well as Wikipedia. They are actually much simpler than we assume. These topics like Russell, Heidegger, Sartre, Quine, etc. are not taught well in coaching centres, but are actually quite easy.
DO NOT try to remember whole answers. Try to remember only the core argument of each philosopher and each aspect in 1-2 lines. You will be able to reconstruct the whole answer in the exam by following the strategy I give for how to answer questions below:
Most Important points (especially for Paper 2):
I have seen that in this optional, the content of the answers is largely the same with everyone. If we read the coaching notes and basic reference books thoroughly, everyone knows the same thing. However, the most crucial aspect of this optional is to understand the question effectively, and answer according to its demands. Here, I have seen many people make errors.
First, understand the question – if it is examine, analyse, critically analyse, short notes, explain, describe, etc. Each question type expects a different response from the aspirant. Vision IAS has a pdf for what each term means. Use this pdf titled – Understanding meaning of key words and framing your answers accordingly. Anyone giving Vision IAS optional test series will have this pdf in the ‘study material’ section.
Let me take up an example: A question from philosophy of religion this year:
‘Examine the Nyaya arguments in favour of the existence of God.’
Now, every aspirant knows the Nyaya arguments for existence of God – karyat ayojnat dhrityadeh shruteh vakyat padat moral-governor law-of-karma etc.
So as soon as we see the question, the first instinct is to list down the arguments and explain them. Then perhaps a few criticisms, and then we move on to the next question.
However, an alternate strategy is – read the question – it says – EXAMINE. So we must delve on each argument, articulate the nature of the argument, and then try to analyse each of them. Also add a line that we are referring to Udayana’s arguments.
So, I approached it this way – First, I bundled the first three arguments –karyat, ayojnat, dhrityadeh – and said, these are cosmological arguments. Linked to Aquinas. Then, criticisms from Indian philosophy – Yoga philosophy (as far as possible, use Indian philosophy arguments for Indian philosophy questions) then some western criticisms.
Then, vakyat – as author of vedas – here write Mimansa criticism – they accept vedas as apaurusheya, so no need for author. Similarly, padat – to give potency to words – here as well, mimansa – say that words have innate potency.
Then, moral governor – write Buddhist, Jaina, Sankhya critique – Ishwar Asiddha, or Buddhist – karma and morality are autonomous, impressions, no need for governor.
Shruteh – proof of testimony given in the vedas – here write limitation of shabda praman – that it is imperceptible, depends on the faith we have on the speaker, and also, that vedas may be giving conjectural statements, not literal ones. For instance, Sankhya Mimansa also accept vedas, but not God, etc.
This way, we can establish that all the arguments of Nyaya in favour of God have counter arguments from different schools, thus, they cannot be ascertained to prove God. God remains a matter of faith and belief.
If the question were elaborate- we would go in depth into each of the arguments. If it were critically analyse, we would do similar to above.
For socio-political philosophy, I suggest that we build our answers based on elaborating the important terms given in each of the questions, and then associating them with Thinkers who have argued on the respective subject.
“Equality will be of no value without fraternity and liberty. Discuss”
Here the main terms are equality, fraternity, liberty. And question asks us to discuss. So, we do not have to argue only in favour or against, we can build our argument as we seek.
First, what is equality – RH Tawney – rationalising the gap between the peak and the valley. What does it require – positive affirmative action – redistribution – etc.
Now, how is this related to liberty? – Libertarians (Nozick, Friedman, Hayek) say that equality and liberty are incompatible. However, we disagree with this conception. Why? Liberty – we define as the freedom for the individual for complete development of his capacities as per her aspirations – this when extended to all individuals – becomes equality of liberty. But, what comes first? For Marx equality comes first, for Rawls, liberty comes first. What is question asking? That equality is of no value without liberty. Thus, it is tilting towards Rawls’ position. So, use Rawls. Even Sen. That social contract, we are first autonomous self-interested individuals, If we do not enjoy liberty, then equality may result in subjugation or state excess. Thus, we need liberty to truly promote equality.
Then, fraternity and equality – equality requires redistribution – according to Rawls- deviations should benefit least privileged. Affirmative action etc. All this requires a moral motivation – this is provided by fraternity – or brotherhood – give example of Rousseau – social contract- links equality with fraternity. Sense of belonging and community essential for advancing the interests of all individuals rather than a few. Hence Rousseau – promotes fraternity between citizens. Gandhi’s RamRajya and Marx’s community – all have fraternity for equality. Thus, fraternity is the most compelling plea for advancing and sustaining equality.
Conclusion – yes, all go together. Thus, Indian Constitution – places them in same light – liberty equality and fraternity among people.
Hence, summarising – I recommend, read the question – based on what it asks, the content has to be delivered. THen, focus on the key words, elaborate upon them with the help of thinkers, then, connect all the key words together, and finally, draw a conclusion.