Faversham Stoa is a philosophy discussion group meeting on the 3rd Tuesday of every month from 7.30 to 9.30pm in the The Bull in Tanners Street. We cover a large range of topics. If you have an idea for a topic that you would like us to cover why not drop us a line? There's no charge for membership and everyone is welcome to drop in. Just bring your brain and some beer money!

Trust

Cartoon

Confucius told his disciple Tsze-kung that three things are needed for good government: weapons, food and trust. If a ruler can't hold on to all three, he should give up the weapons first and the food next. Trust should be guarded to the end: “without trust we cannot stand” .

In the run-up to the 1997 election Tony Blair claimed that the electorate would be right to put their trust in him. The electorate was convinced and he was elected. But what was it he was asking people to do? What is trust? It is more than counting on people to do what they say they will do. After all, I rely on my local shop to sell me the paper but it would be odd to say I trust them.

Trusting someone is more like putting ourselves in their hands; making a leap of faith that goes beyond rational calculation; believing in their goodwill towards us but at the same time risking betrayal. Tony Blair was asking us to do that; he could not prove he would run a good government. He was asking us to trust that he would. (I leave it to you to judge whether he betrayed that trust!).

But why would anyone make such a leap of faith? One answer is that trusting people enables us to take advantage of opportunities we would not otherwise enjoy. If we never, ever trusted anyone, life would be fairly miserable - trust is an important part of our lives.

As Samuel Johnson put it: “It is happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust”.

At our discussion session we will examine:

  • what trust is and why it is a good thing (perhaps it isn't always)?
  • who we should and should not trust: do we trust some people too much and others not enough?
  • when is trust warranted and how do we check that we are justified in placing our trust?
  • Have we lost trust in our public institutions, banks, goverment, police, hospitals, and if so how can we rebuild that trust?
  • In particular we will be looking the New Vetting and Barring Scheme which seems to imply that no adult is any longer to trusted with a child (some critics claim).

The articles listed below provide some good background for our discussion.

Philosophy of Trust

'A Question of Trust'

The Reith Lectures 2002 consisted of five lectures delivered by the philosopher Onora O'Neill. You can read the orginal lectures, which are very relevant to our topic, on the BBC website and listen to them on-line.

Trusting the Media

The case of Amy Winehouse's singed hair

This month a hoax story was sold to the Mirror and The Star to test how easy it was to get a fake story published. The hoax was perpetrated by the production team behind a new film, to be released shortly, called Starsuckers which is all about celebrity stories in the media. The story was simply that Amy Winehouse was at a party where the group playing caused all the fuses to blow in the house. Amy went to change the fuse which shorted, sparked and singed her hair. A trivial story, but completely untrue and no one bothered to fact-check it before publishing. If it is so easy to get lies published how can we trust the media?

The Sun

In 1992, the Sun sold more than 3.5 million copies a day. It is still the UK's top-selling newspaper with average daily sales of 3.13 million in August.

Trust Dilemmas

Contexts in which trust is essential if human life is to floursh.

The Prisoner's Dilemma

A game frequently displayed in television police dramas. Two partners in crime are separated into separate rooms at the police station and given a similar deal. If one implicates the other, he may go free while the other receives a life in prison. If neither implicates the other, both are given moderate sentences, and if both implicate the other, the sentences for both are severe. Each player, when considering the problem in terms of his or her own self-interest, has good reason to implicate the other and thus each will receive a harsh punishment. However, both would be better off if each remained silent. Repeated trials of this dilemma show that a tit-for-tat strategy based on some degree of mutual trust leads to the best outcome.

The Tragedy of the Commons

The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma described in an article written by Garrett Hardin in the journal 'Science' in 1968. He describes a situation in which multiple individuals acting independently and rationally consulting only their own self-interest will ultimately destroy a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long term interest for this to happen. Some proposed solutions to this problem emphasise the need to establish collective control based on trust relationships. However, the possibility of the 'free rider' is always a problem in such set-ups.

Privacy and Trust

How can trust flourish in a society where our lives are being monitored by technology to such a huge degree? We are assured that the increased use of CCTV surveillance cameras has been for public safety. But do we need such a level of transparency to ensure public safety? Surely increased surveillance lowers the level of trust, and increases suspicion – the very antithesis of trust. Are we giving away our right to privacy, the right to lead our lives without the eyes of government and commerce on us? And if the government cannot trust the people, then how can the people trust the government?

New Vetting and Barring Scheme

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