Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Stephen Turner, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Brook Sadler, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Hugh LaFollette, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sandra Schneider, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Gibbons, Ph.D.


Ethics, Decision-making, Risk, Cooperation, Confidence


In this dissertation I defend five claims about trust: 1) trusting and trustworthiness are conceptually but not causally connected; 2) trust is risky; 3) trust requires good will; 4) trust is a two-part relation; and 5) trust is an interpretative framework.

A concern for trust often appears in discussions about testimony and the expectation of truthfulness; Bentley Glass, John Hardwig, and Jonathan Adler each address the role of trust in science while assuming a necessary connection between trusting and trustworthiness. I argue that this conception is untenable because a justification for one fails to suffice as a justification of the other. I show, instead, that it is our assessment that links trustworthiness to trusting.

My second claim, that trust involves risk, is contentious. I argue that the common understanding of risk as harm, which is held by Russell Hardin, contains the more technical understanding of risk as uncertainty, which is suggested by Niklas Luhman. Trust is risky precisely because it is inherently uncertain.

Annette Baier argues that failing to recognize a distinction between trusting and action associated with that trust leads us to accept accounts of trust that are too broad. I argue that trust is to believe that another is concerned with your well-being, has good will, because she is concerned about you and not that it will necessarily benefit her in some way.

Seeing trust as good will allows me to advance my fourth claim, that trust is a two-part relation, because trust is the assessment of another's good will towards me. Trusting another is believing that the other's good judgment will include concern and consideration for my interests because they are my interests.

My fifth point follows naturally once trust is understood to be a risky, two-part relation requiring good will: it is an interpretive framework. Our trust in another sets the tone for understanding her behavior such that we take her actions as either supporting or blocking our interests. This account takes the capacity to trust to be the foundation for, rather than merely an outgrowth of, our judgments.