March 16, 2010
The paper contributes to the ongoing discussion about the correct or most fruitful philosophical analysis of trust. The discussion has lately gained in importance due to the central role social scientists attribute to trust in their analysis of “social capital”. The following account of trust, based on the notion of holding someone responsible, is suggested in the paper: We trust someone when 1) We put ourselves in a dependent position which involves the risk of being harmed (from an objective perspective); 2) We do not monitor the trusted party; and 3) We do not believe the risk will actualize because we take the other party to be responsible in the sense that we hold her to normative expectations which we believe arise out of a shared perspective on the nature of our relationship and the normative expectations it gives rise to. It is argued that the above account explains often registered features of trust such as the feeling of being betrayed caused by breaches of trust, the moral dimension associated with trust, and the invisibility or near-invisibility of trust when not breached. In addition, the account is capable of explaining the common intuition that trusting behavior undertaken in order to create trust should not be understood as trust proper. The difference between risks going with such “therapeutic trust” on the one hand and trust proper on the other are illuminated. On the basis of these differences it is argued that therapeutic trust is a very different form of social capital than trust proper. Noticing this difference is important, for example, because of the practical consequences it has for efforts of building trust. In addition to philosophical analysis, the paper proceeds by discussing a literary example taken from Iris Murdoch's novel A Fairly Honourable Defeat . The use of the example reflects the conviction that the features of trust analyzed in the paper are best understood within a concrete narrative of a mutual quest for recognition of the partners in a trust relationship.