Matters of Interpersonal Trust

  • Andrew Kirton

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis defends an account of what it is to trust other people, and what gives matters of trust a characteristic interpersonal or normative importance to us. Trust is an attitude of the trust stance; a more general attitude we take toward others in matters of trust, that includes distrust. Matters of trust are situations we trust/distrust others in. I put forward an account of the trust stance, that explains why matters of trust have interpersonal importance to us. Chapter 1 introduces the key questions to be addressed by the account. I outline how trust can be tied to specific actions, but can also be a general attitude we have about a person, or people. I set out how trust is standardly conceived as an anticipatory/predictive attitude, that also involves interpersonal import. That import is glimpsed in the possibility of betrayal by those we trust, and I point toward existing accounts of betrayal. I present arguments against accounts of trust that take it to be purely predictive, i.e. those of the rational choice/game-theoretic tradition. Chapter 2 introduces the dominant philosophical view of trust, which holds that to trust is to rely on another, such that we can be betrayed by her. I call this the Reliance plus (REL+) view. I offer a critical overview of three prominent REL+ accounts, from Baier (1986), Holton (1994), and Hawley (2014). I illustrate how an account of distrust that Hawley endorses, of betrayable non-reliance on another, results from REL+. Chapter 3 presents an argument against REL+. I argue it cannot allow for the possibility of uncertainty about another, where uncertainty is a trust stance attitude between trust and distrust. Uncertainty is possible, so REL+ must be false. Chapter 4 presents another argument against REL+. The argument is that distrust cannot be a product of non-reliance, so REL+ must be false. I argue that REL+ fails because it ignores a distinction between two senses of 'trust': an activity of reliance, and a mental state of assurance. Distrust is only an attitude of wariness, opposed to assurance, rather than reliance. I defend the claim that reliance requires practical dependence on what is relied on. I build upon in this claim in the next chapter. Chapter 5 defends an account of reliance as an activity, in support of the active/stative trust distinction from chapter 4. I evaluate Smith's (2010) account of reliance, which endorses practical dependence. I argue that Smith's account faces a dilemma, showing the account is either incomplete, or that it renders reliance impossible. I defend a 'role placement in activity' account of reliance, that avoids the dilemma. Chapter 6 defends a distinction between reliance and dependence in general. Where reliance involves practical dependence, I argue that dependence is a matter of fundamentally needing something as a matter of functioning and wellbeing. My account of the concept comes into play in chapter 8. Chapter 7 sets out a more detailed account of the stative trust stance attitudes. I use the active/stative distinction to address a question over whether we can trust voluntarily, and the relation between specific and general trust. I set out the concept of a situational vulnerability, that the trust stance attitudes are about, and which can result from reliance on another. I defend an account of the trust stance as a rolling schema: an anticipatory framework that involves interpreting another's motives toward us, in respect of situations of vulnerability. Chapter 8 argues that the interpersonal import of trust is a product of our felt need for secure attachments to individuals, and to belong to a group. I explain the relationship between social dependence on others and betrayability.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorThomas Smith (Supervisor), Paula Satne (Supervisor) & Joel Smith (Supervisor)


  • Attachment
  • Distrust
  • Betrayal
  • Reliance
  • Trust
  • Dependence

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