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Trust is agreed to be essential for securing the goods of cooperation; however, philosophers disagree about how trust is best analyzed. On the simplest account, trust just is reliance. On more restrictive accounts, trust also requires something else: that the truster be disposed to respond to a breach of trust with reactive attitudes such as resentment; that the one trusted proves trustworthy because of being trusted; or that the reliance involved in the trust is grounded in an assumption of goodwill. In addition to the question of how to analyze the concept of trust, other central questions include how to generate trustworthiness, when trust is justiﬁed and whether trust and trustworthiness are virtues.
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1. The Importance Of Trust
Trust makes it possible for us to enter, willingly and with conﬁdence, into relationships of dependency and, as Williams points out, ‘if there are to be continuing practices of cooperation, then people must be motivated, one way or another, to enter into dependent positions’ (1988, p. 8). Such dependencies may be economic (for example, when goods must be paid for prior to receipt), political (when power is entrusted to elected representatives), professional (when patients depend on their physicians), social (the mutual dependence of voluntary associations), personal (dependencies among family members), or epistemic (when laypersons defer to experts). Dependency brings with it risk: one may be left worse oﬀ than one would have been had one not depended. Trust makes such risks seem worth the taking.
Recent work in the social sciences (Putnam et al. 1993, Fukuyama 1995, among others) suggests that trust is an important form of social capital, the absence of which hampers economic development. Societies with high levels of trust present more economic opportunities than societies with low levels of trust. Moreover, trust enables transaction costs to be lowered by reducing the need for expensive substitutes for trust such as legal remedies and close monitoring of performance. Monitoring and legal remedy presuppose a relatively determinate understanding of what counts as an acceptable discharging of the responsibilities of a dependency relationship. Trust allows the truster to give trustees discretionary powers with respect to how they fulﬁll that trust (Baier 1986, p. 237). Discretionary powers greatly enhance the usefulness of dependency relationships: often the truster cannot precisely specify in advance what it is that they are counting on the other to do either because the truster does not have the ability to predict the contingencies that must be planned for (think of the discretion given to babysitters), or because they do not have the knowledge to specify what would count as an appropriate response to such contingencies. Subjective beneﬁts also follow from assigning discretionary powers—trust lets us inhabit a simpler and less threatening world in which we need not plan for every contingency (Luhmann 1973). The limits of the trustee’s discretionary powers are only vaguely speciﬁed and this vagueness opens up the possibility for abuse—an untrustworthy trustee might conceal subtle breaches of trust as appropriate uses of her discretionary powers. Assigning discretionary powers thus brings with it additional risks as well as beneﬁts.
Trust is required for the proper functioning of divisions of economic and epistemic labor, divisions that can greatly increase the speed with which goods, including knowledge, are produced and, thus, the complexity and scope of the projects that can be undertaken. In these ways, trust is shown to have instrumental value insofar as it contributes to bringing about the goods of cooperation. However, trust has more than instrumental value since it is also constitutive of relationships that are valuable in themselves, such as the relationships between family members and friends.
This brief catalogue of some of the ways in which trust is important points to the signiﬁcance of developing an account of what trust is, how trustworthiness can be elicited, and when trust is justiﬁed. These are the topics of the next three sections.
2. Accounts Of Trust
While trust might appear to be a dyadic relation of the form ‘A trusts B’ (for example, the citizens trust their government), trust is best analyzed as a three place relationship: A trusts B to do Z (Baier 1986, Holton 1994). Even among close friends, trust seldom extends to all domains of interaction and there is typically some background assumption in place about that with respect to which the other is trusted. The triadic nature of trust shows that trust need not be an all or nothing aﬀair—one can trust with respect to the performance of some actions, but not others. This opens up the possibility of incrementally increasing trust by gradually extending the range of actions that the other is counted on to do. Paradigmatically, the ‘A’ and ‘B’ of the schema ‘A trusts B to do Z’ stand for persons. However, non-natural agents, such as corporations and governments can also ﬁll either role, as can perhaps nonhuman animals. Furthermore, on some accounts of trust, but not others, things such as machinery and ropes can occupy the role of B.
The single most important question that occupies the philosophical literature on trust concerns how and whether to separate trust from reliance. On the simplest model, trust just is reliance. On this model agents can trust machinery and ropes as well as other agents, natural and artiﬁcial. However, agents will count as trusting even when they do not expect a favorable outcome. For example, someone may decide to rely on a frayed rope which they do not believe strong enough to hold them—perhaps it is better to risk probable death or injury from a fall than certain death from the oncoming ﬁre. A trust-as-reliance model conforms to ordinary linguistic usage, for it would not be incorrect to say that such a person preferred to trust the rope than to take their chances with the ﬁre. Nevertheless, the trust-as-reliance model identiﬁes too heterogeneous a class of dependencies to support useful generalizations and thus does not provide a useful classiﬁcation for the purposes of social scientiﬁc and other theorizing. For example, the claim that trust contributes to social capital and reduces transaction costs is false if trust is understood as reliance with or without conﬁdence. Someone who relies while expecting the worst will be on the lookout for alternatives to such reliance and will cease to rely once another option is open to them. Such wary and reluctant dependence cannot be thought of as social capital. If we are to have a category that supports useful generalizations, we need a richer conception of trust.
According to Thomas Hobbes, ‘[t]rust is a passion proceeding from the belief of him whom we expect or hope for good, so free from doubt that upon the same we pursue no other way’ (1994: IX 9). Call this the trust-as-conﬁdence model. Conﬁdence can be grounded in all sorts of properties of that which is trusted. An agent might trust someone to do Z because they are motivated by self-interest, goodwill, fear, or just because they are in the habit of doing Z. Trust-as-conﬁdence remains a comparatively thin conception of trust and can be enriched in one of several ways.
First, notice that on this model someone can trust when the other is unaware of their trusting and when the other acts from reasons not in anyway connected with the fact that they are being relied on. Consider Kant’s habit of taking a walk at exactly the same time everyday (Blackburn 1998). Knowing his habits, his neighbors could use Kant to ﬁnd out the time. Should we say that Kant’s neighbors trust Kant for the time? Again, such usage would not be improper, but it seems to group together rather diﬀerent phenomenon. Philosophers have tried diﬀerent strategies to capture the diﬀerence between the kinds of phenomenon grouped together by this account. Hollis (1998) uses the distinction between predicative and normative expectations, or the distinction between expecting that and expecting of. I may expect that the rope will hold and may build that expectation into my plans. I may thus be said to trust, in the predicative sense, that the rope will hold. I may also expect of you that you will keep your promise and may build that expectation into my plans. In this case I may be said to trust, in the normative sense, that you will keep your promise.
Holton seeks to capture the same distinction in a diﬀerent way: according to Holton, trusting essentially requires taking the ‘participant stance’ towards the one-trusted (1994, p. 66). The participant stance is characterized by the readiness to have reactive attitudes such as resentment or gratitude towards the other. While we might be annoyed at, or frustrated by things that disappoint us, we will not feel betrayed and resentful should they let us down. According to this account, trusting someone ‘involves relying on them to do something, and investing that reliance with a certain attitude’ (1994, p. 67). To return to the example of Kant: on the reliance-with-participant-stance account, as long as Kant’s neighbors are treating Kant’s walking habits as a mere sign of the time of day, much like they would treat a clock, and have no reason to believe that Kant is aware of their use of his clockwork schedule, then they rely on Kant for the time, but do not trust him to provide it. Suppose, however, that Kant came to believe that his neighbors were counting on his regular habits for their time-keeping, and the neighbors knew this—perhaps Kant promised to continue his helpful habits—then they might come to invest their reliance with the attitudes appropriate to the participant stance and become disposed to feel resentful should Kant let them down. If so, then they would be trusting Kant for the time.
Hardin seeks to distinguish cases of trust from mere reliance in the following way: ‘it is trust I have, and not merely inductive expectations if I think that you have a reason in some way grounded in me for fulﬁlling my trust. For example, I might well expect you to rise every morning at 7:00 because I know your habits very well, but I do not trust you to do so if I have no reason to suppose that you do so somehow on my behalf.’ (1998, p. 12) The reference to ‘on my behalf,’ should not, however, be taken to indicate that Hardin thinks trust requires attributing to the one-trusted a direct concern for the truster’s welfare. Hardin thinks that typically the one-trusted will have self-interested reasons for not letting the truster down.
Other accounts see reliance on self-interest as incompatible with trust. Baier analyses trust as reliance on the goodwill of the other, rather than on other features of their psychology or on external constraints (1986, p. 234). However, this account is vulnerable to the objection that, while the conman relies on his victims’ goodwill in order to manipulate them, he cannot be said to trust them (Holton 1994, p. 67). The account would need to explicate the sort of reliance on goodwill that is distinctive of trusting reliance. A somewhat diﬀerent account that shares the intuition that goodwill is central but that stresses the importance of aﬀect or emotion, is oﬀered by Jones (1996) who deﬁnes trust as an aﬀective attitude of optimism that the goodwill and competence of the other will extend to cover the domain of your interaction, together with the conﬁdent expectation that the other will be directly and favorably moved by the thought that you are counting on them. Although many cases of trust undoubtedly do involve optimism about the competence and goodwill of another—for example, the trust between friends and family members takes this form—it seems that not all instances of trust involve an element of aﬀect and not all presuppose goodwill. If accounts of trust that do not distinguish it from bare reliance are too broad, willbased accounts appear too narrow and appear to take as paradigm trust in interpersonal relationships rather than trust in governments and institutions. Thus, it is preferable to have a more general model as an account of trust in all its forms, while continuing to note that there can be important diﬀerences in the kind of trust that results from conﬁdence in the good will of the one trusted and in their responsiveness to being relied on.
3. Generating Trustworthiness
If trusting is to bring about the goods of cooperation, it must be met with trustworthiness. Trust in the untrustworthy breeds exploitation and abuse. Moreover, the costs of misplaced trust are frequently borne by others more vulnerable than the truster—think, for example, of child abuse. For this reason, being trusting is not a virtue. Likewise, the endorsement of trustworthiness must be qualiﬁed: sometimes one is required to respond to trust with judicious untrustworthiness. Nevertheless, trustworthiness in the service of unobjectionable or praiseworthy ends is a good thing, and trustworthiness is almost always something it is valuable to increase.
The problem of generating trustworthiness can be brought into focus by considering the following games: consider two agents, A and B. A must choose whether or not to rely on B. If A chooses to rely, B must choose whether to exploit or fulﬁll that reliance. Suppose the payoﬀs are, and are known to be, as represented in Fig. 1 (Brennan 1998, p. 199). If B is rational, then, if A chooses to rely on B, B will choose to exploit that reliance, since the payoﬀ of exploiting is higher than the payoﬀ of fulﬁlling. But if A believes B to be rational, then A will know that B will choose the option with the highest payoﬀ and thus will choose to exploit. Since the payoﬀ for A of relying and being exploited ( – 1) is worse than the payoﬀ of not relying at all (0), A, if rational, will choose not to rely. Thus, both players will be left worse oﬀ than they would be had they been able to rely and respond to that reliance with reliability, since they both miss out on the goods of cooperation (the (2,2) payoﬀ ).
Consider an alternative game which, following Brennan (1998, p. 200), we can call the ‘dependence game.’ As before, A must choose whether or not to rely on B and, if A chooses to rely, B must choose whether to exploit or fulﬁll that reliance. The diﬀerence between the two games lies in the payoﬀs, which are as illustrated in Fig. 2. With these payoﬀs, if A believes B to be rational, it will be rational for A to rely on B, and for B to respond to that reliance with reliability, since the payoﬀ for B of fulﬁlling the reliance is greater than the payoﬀ of exploiting it. Both agents can now achieve the goods of cooperation.
The problem of how to convert a reliance predicament into a dependence game is the problem of how to make B trustworthy with respect to the exchange in question. There are three ways to do this: by decreasing the payoﬀ for B of exploiting (this is the strategy illustrated in Fig. 2), by increasing the payoﬀ of cooperating, or by increasing and decreasing the relevant payoﬀs at the same time. Any of these solutions will work provided that B’s payoﬀ for fulﬁlling is greater than B’s payoﬀ for exploiting. The payoﬀs can be divided into subjective and objective components (Brennan 1998, p. 201). The subjective component refers to features of the agent’s motivational set that will increase or decrease the utility she assigns to the outcome—examples include feelings of guilt at letting someone down and feelings of satisfaction at fulﬁlling their trust. The objective component refers to institutional incentives that increase or decrease objective utilities. Thus, each of the three strategies can be pursued either by adjusting the agent’s subjective or objective payoﬀs or by pursuing a mixed strategy that aﬀects both.
Among the strategies that can be pursued to structure the agent’s objective payoﬀs are mechanisms for detecting and penalizing exploitative behavior. Thus, one way of building trustworthiness is to have in place mechanisms of distrust; mechanisms, that is, that provide checks against untrustworthy behavior.
Incentives are often cheaper than penalties. An important incentive is provided by the fact that, should B prove untrustworthy, A will not trust in future encounters. When there is the possibility of repeated plays of the game, the cost of losing the beneﬁts of future cooperation can in itself be enough to adjust the payoﬀs towards trustworthiness. Thus Hardin (1991, 1998) can claim that trustworthiness is produced by self-interest; including especially by the trustee’s interest in having an on-going relationship with the truster. Moreover, reputation for trustworthiness can encourage the reliance of others. For the reputational eﬀect to be signiﬁcant, background conditions must be met. In particular it must be possible for potential trusters to have information about the trustworthiness of potential trustees. Institutional design (such as structures that ensure openness and accountability) contribute to determining whether these background conditions are met. In these ways, institutional design can support (or erode) individual trustworthiness. While trust in individual actors cannot be entirely eliminated and replaced with trust in social institutions, social institutions can create a conﬂuence of motives for trustworthiness. Working out which structures support, and which undermine, trustworthiness is thus a question of the ﬁrst importance for institutional design.
It is widely observed (for example, Baier 1986, Jones 1996) that trust and distrust are self-conﬁrming. Trusting is often met with perceived trustworthiness and distrust with perceived untrustworthiness. In part, this is to be explained by perception—someone who trusts will interpret the one-trusted’s actions through the lens of that trust. An action that might have been seen as indicative of untrustworthiness will be explained away as compatible with trustworthiness. Equally, someone who distrusts will tend to interpret actions that could be given a favorable interpretation as nevertheless revealing motives indicative of untrustworthiness (‘what does she want from me that she is being so nice?’). In part, it is to be explained by opportunities to prove oneself trustworthy: where possible, one steers clear of those one does not trust and so they are never given the chance to demonstrate their trustworthiness. But, in large measure, the self- fulﬁlling nature of trust and distrust is to be explained by trust-responsiveness (Pettit 1995) and its corollary distrust-responsiveness.
Trust-responsiveness is the ‘disposition to prove reliable under the trust of others’ (Pettit 1995, p. 203). Trust-responsive agents assign higher degrees of utility to performing actions that they are being counted on to perform than they would ascribe to those actions were they not being so counted on. The very act of relying, and conveying that reliance, itself contributes to adjusting the payoﬀs in the way needed to move from a reliance predicament to a dependence game. Trust-responsiveness can be grounded in a variety of elements in an agent’s motivational set, including positively valued traits such as loyalty, virtue, and prudence. But it can also be grounded in agents’ desire for the good regard of others. By openly relying, a truster can convey their assumption that the other is trustworthy. Since the desire to be thought well of by others is widely shared, conveying good-regard, or the promise of good-regard should the other fulﬁll the trust, is likely to be motivating (Pettit 1995). In this way, trust can be self-fulﬁlling.
Trust-responsiveness has a negative corollary in distrust-responsiveness. If others become aware of our distrust, either because we refuse dependency, or because we engage in intrusive surveillance, we risk undermining the positive eﬀect of trust-responsiveness and, further, we risk alienating the one being monitored and thus activating untrustworthiness. Surveillance generates resentment, undermines internal motivations towards trustworthiness, and encourages even the honest to attempt to beat the surveillance system (Kramer 1999, p. 591). Thus, strategies for converting the reliance predicament into the dependence game must be carefully crafted least adjustments in objective payoﬀs have unintended consequences on subjective payoﬀs and so oﬀer no solution at all.
4. Rational Trusting
If the problem of trustworthiness can usefully be thought of as the problem of how to convert reliance predicaments into dependence games, the problem of rational trusting can usefully be thought of as arising when the assumption that the truster automatically knows what the trustee’s payoﬀs are is abandoned, as it surely must be in real life. No matter how trustworthy the trustee would prove to be, the goods of cooperation will remain elusive unless it is reasonable for the truster to think that trust will in fact be met with a trustworthy response. Trust-responsiveness provides a mechanism which allows trusters to bootstrap their way to rational trust. Any means of communicating information about the potential trustee’s motivations can also serve to ground rational trusting. Transparent social structures that reveal what incentives are in place can serve this communicative function, as can mechanisms, from gossip, to watchdog authorities, which spread abroad information about past performance with respect to trustworthiness. Would-be trustees have reason to convey that they can be trusted. Often, however, this cannot be conveyed directly: ‘ ‘‘Trust me!’’ is for most of us an invitation which we cannot accept at will—either we do already trust the one who says it … or it is properly responded to with, ‘‘Why should I and how can I until I have cause to?’’ ’ (Baier 1986, p. 244). Trusted third parties can thus be important brokers for new trust relationships.
How much, and what sort of information agents need before it is rational for them to trust depends on the climate of trustworthiness they inhabit, on what it is that the other is being trusted to do, and on the cost of misplaced trust (Jones 1996). When the climate is suﬃciently bad it might be reasonable to begin from a default stance of distrust and move towards trust only when there is considerable evidence of the trustworthiness of the other. In such climates, trust-responsiveness is undermined, for a truster cannot credibly convey to the trustee that she thinks them trustworthy if hardly anyone ever thinks another trustworthy (Pettit 1995, p. 221). Some actions, such as refraining from harming others as they go about their business, require only minimal decency and no particular competence and thus, unless the climate of trust has broken down completely, it can be assumed that trust is warranted. Other actions will be such that their performance demands competencies or motivational resources that cannot be assumed to be widely distributed—in such cases, the truster will require speciﬁc evidence about the trustworthiness of the other. Such evidence may take the form of marks that indicate that the trustee belongs to some subset of the population in which trustworthiness with respect to the required action will be the norm (for example, board-certiﬁed surgeons), or it may take the form of evidence about motivations and competencies speciﬁc to the trustee. The consequences of misplaced trust also aﬀect how much evidence is required for rational trust—holding constant climate and kind of action to be performed, it will take more information before I am justiﬁed in trusting when I risk a grave loss should the other prove untrustworthy than when the loss is less.
5. Trust And Epistemic Dependency
Some of our most signiﬁcant dependencies are epistemic: laypersons depend on experts for information about everything from the best cancer treatments, to the probable eﬀects of an interest rate hike. Moreover, we rely on a vast array of technologies and intermediaries to convey this information. Nor is such trust limited to the relationship between experts and laypersons: experts must trust other experts in the design and maintenance of experimental equipment and must rely on the results of others in constructing and testing their theories. Hardwig reports the case of an experiment measuring the life of charm particles that took 280 person-years to perform and was reported in a paper with 99 authors (Hardwig 1991). No one person has, or could acquire, the expertise necessary to vouch for all the parts of the experiment even if it were physically possible for the experiment to have been conducted single-handedly. Such epistemic dependency was always present—consider day-to-day reliance on the testimony of others for directions—but the explosion of knowledge and of technologies for its dissemination, brings questions of epistemic dependency to the forefront of epistemology and raises questions about the design of knowledge generating and certifying institutions, such as the academy and the peer review process. Interdisciplinary inquiry into which structures support the truth-seeking aims of science and which undermine them is thus of the ﬁrst importance (Goldman 1999) and can be seen as the extension to the realm of the epistemic, of the sorts of inquiries that are being undertaken into the trustworthiness of social and political institutions.
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