Trust as an unquestioning attitude

Oxford Studies in Epistemology 7:214-244 (2022)
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According to most accounts of trust, you can only trust other people (or groups of people). To trust is to think that another has goodwill, or something to that effect. I sketch a different form of trust: the unquestioning attitude. What it is to trust, in this sense, is to settle one’s mind about something, to stop questioning it. To trust is to rely on a resource while suspending deliberation over its reliability. Trust lowers the barrier of monitoring, challenging, checking, and questioning. Trust sets up open pipelines between yourself and parts of the external world. Trust permits external resources to have a similar relationship to one as one’s internal cognitive faculties. This creates efficiency, but at the price of exquisite vulnerability. We must trust in this way because we are cognitively limited beings in a cognitively overwhelming world. Crucially, we can hold the unquestioning attitude towards objects and technologies. When I trust my climbing rope, I stop worrying about its reliability. When I trust my online calendaring system, I simply go to the events indicated, without question. But, one might worry, how could one ever hold such a normatively loaded attitude as trust towards mere objects? How could it ever make sense to feel betrayed by an object? Trust is our engine for expanding and outsourcing our agency — for binding external processes into our practical selves. Thus, we can be betrayed by our smartphones in the same way that we can be betrayed by our memory. When we trust, we try to make something a part of our agency, and we are betrayed when our part lets us down. To unquestioningly trust something is to let it in—to attempt to bring it inside one’s practical functioning. This suggests a new form of gullibility: agential gullibility, which occurs when agents too hastily and carelessly integrate external resources into their own agency.

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C. Thi Nguyen
University of Utah


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