Trust and distrust in institutions and governance

In Judith Simon (ed.), Handbook of Trust and Philosophy. Routledge (forthcoming)
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First, we explain the conception of trustworthiness that we employ. We model trustworthiness as a relation among a trustor, a trustee, and a field of trust defined and delimited by its scope. In addition, both potential trustors and potential trustees are modeled as being more or less reliable in signaling either their willingness to trust or their willingness to prove trustworthy in various fields in relation to various other agents. Second, following Alfano (forthcoming) we argue that the social scale of a potential trust relationship partly determines both explanatory and normative aspects of the relation. Most of the philosophical literature focuses on dyadic trust between a pair of agents (Baier 1986, Jones 1996, Jones 2012, McGeer 2008, Pettit 1995), but there are also small communities of trust (Alfano forthcoming) and trust in large institutions (Potter 2002, Govier 1997, Townley & Garfield 2013, Hardin 2002). The mechanisms that induce people to extend their trust vary depending on the size of the community in question, and the ways in which trustworthiness can be established and trusting warranted vary with these mechanisms. Mechanisms that work in dyads and small communities are often unavailable in the context of trusting an institution or branch of government. Establishing trust on this larger social scale therefore requires new or modified mechanisms. In the third section of the paper, we recommend three policies that – we argue – tend to make institutions more trustworthy and to reliably signal that trustworthiness to the public. First, they should ensure that their decision-making processes are as open and transparent as possible. Second, they should make efforts to engage stakeholders in dialogue with decision-makers such as managers, members of the C-Suite, and highly-placed policy-makers. Third, they should foster diversity – gender, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic background, disability, etc. – in their workforce at all levels, but especially in management and positions of power. We conclude by discussing the warrant for distrust in institutions that do not adopt these policies, which we contend is especially pertinent for people who belong to groups that have historically faced (and in many cases still do face) oppression.



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Mark Alfano
Macquarie University

Citations of this work

Humble trust.Jason D’Cruz - 2019 - Philosophical Studies 176 (4):933-953.
Nietzsche on Trust and Mistrust.Mark Alfano - 2023 - In Mark Alfano, David Collins & Iris Jovanovic (eds.), Perspectives on Trust in the History of Philosophy. Lanham: Lexington.

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