Trust: A Paradigm-Based Explanation

Johnny Brennan, Fordham University


This dissertation provides a new systematic account of trust. The philosophical literature on trust converges around three main theories: trust as reliance on goodwill, trust as an expectation of others to fulfill their commitments, and trust as a set of beliefs about trustworthiness. I reconceive these theories on offer as different forms of trust, each with its own sphere of applicability, its own function to perform. I then show how these different forms are derived from a more basic form that I call “recognition trust.” This is the trust we have in others to recognize us as persons with moral value. This method of showing some forms to be variations or developments on other, more foundational forms is called a “paradigm-based explanation.” Giving a paradigm-based explanation of trust has several important benefits. First, it preserves the diversity of trust. Trust is a highly flexible phenomenon; we trust different people with different things and to different degrees. This diversity is an intuitively plausible characteristic, one that we want to keep. Second, identifying a core function of the paradigm form provides us an evaluative standard to assess when trust threatens to do us harm, guiding us to be wiser trusters. Third, it gives us a more fruitful way of understanding trust generally. A paradigm-based explanation reveals the threat that ties together seemingly disparate practices of trust, showing how different forms of trust play different roles in our lives. Finally, the paradigm form of recognition trust shows us the true value of trust for us: More than a means of securing social cooperation, trust is intimately tied to our sense of what it means to be a person—to be worthy of love, esteem, and care.

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Recommended Citation

Brennan, Johnny, "Trust: A Paradigm-Based Explanation" (2021). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28412639.