Trust Issues: Understanding the Nature of Trust and A Contribution to A Critique of Market Colonization

Student thesis: Phd


I advance a social role-based understanding of inter-personal trust and trustworthiness. I argue against the influence of two market principles – of commensurability and motive of self-interest – on matters of trust. Chapter 1 introduces certain debates and discussions in the philosophy of trust. Particularly, questions pertaining to (i) needs and vulnerabilities, (ii) betrayal, (iii) the place of motivation, and (iv) the notion of interpersonal trust. Many of these issues could be addressed, and many debates could be resolved following a role-based understanding of inter-personal trust. In Chapter 2, I argue for my social role-based account. This account accommodates trust in various social relations – personal (lovers, parent-child, etc.) and impersonal (citizens, caste-members, etc.) – involving norms and values of those roles and relations. I bring out the advantages of this account over other major theories. In Chapter 3 I give a detailed taxonomy of roles. I outline various characteristics of social roles and argue that there is a spectrum of roles. On one end there are ‘impersonal roles’ – of citizen, salespersons, etc. – and on the other end are ‘personal roles’ – of friends, family, lovers. There are two more kinds in between these strictly impersonal and personal ones. Chapter 4 argues that we can differentiate impersonal from personal trust based on the kind of evidence that can be consulted. Chapter 5 distinguishes between personal and impersonal trust based on the kinds of vulnerability involved. Chapter 6 argues that different reactive attitudes are relevant for personal and impersonal trusts. Chapter 7 advances a role-based account of general social trust and trustworthiness. I also provide a role-based account of institutional trustworthiness, given that trustworthy institutions are important for sustaining social trust – as claimed by social scientists and philosophers. The discussions so far establish the diversity of our practice of trusting. Chapter 8 argues against commensurability of diverse values involved in trust relations. The utilitarian argues that trust relations increase overall utility of the participants. This hints at commensuration of values involved in diverse trust relations. I argue that it is impossible to commensurate the values of various trust relationships. It is also undesirable since we will blur the particularities of the diverse trust relationships. The values of roles, I argue, are often constitutively incommensurable. The value involved in trusting one role, accordingly, is often not entirely commensurable with that involved in trusting another. Finally, in Chapter 9 I dispute the claim that self-interest is the necessary motivation for trust and trustworthiness. Self-interest can be material or monetary incentives, benefits from following social norms, or benefits of having close personal relationships. I argue that self-interest, understood in any of these ways, is the normatively wrong motivation for trustworthiness. I will divide my arguments against three kinds of interests and will show that self-interest is inappropriate as the overriding motivation in all the three cases. I argue, in these nine chapters, that our practice of interpersonal trust involves diverse motivations, goods, and processes. Market principles of self-interest, and commensurability obfuscate that diversity and misrepresent the practice.
Date of Award1 Aug 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJohn O'Neill (Supervisor) & Thomas Smith (Supervisor)


  • Self Interest
  • Incommensurability
  • Reactive Attitudes
  • Vulnerability
  • Social Trust
  • Interpersonal Trust
  • Trust
  • Social Roles

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