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
- On Trust and Philosophy
- Trust is a special kind of reliance, reliance on others' good disposition towards us. In contrast, if I expect my friend not to steal my bike just because I have asked him to leave a deposit, then I may be relying on him not to steal it, but I am not trusting him. (Nor is he likely to remain my friend for long!) Similarly, if I rely on others not to attack me in a state of nature just because I believe that it is in their self-interest not to break our agreement and that they are rational enough to recognise this, again I may be relying on them, but I am not trusting them. Recognising that human beings may take responsibility for how their behaviour influences others' decisions, however, offers us a way of explaining how trust can be rational. It thus also offers us a way of beginning to understand how trust can be genuinely cultivated and maintained.
- Trust (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- Trust is both important and dangerous. It is important because it allows us to form relationships with others and to depend on others – for love, for advice, for help, especially when we know that no outside force (eg, the law) compels them to give us such things. Trust always involves the risk that the trusted person will not pull through for the trusting person. If the truster could guarantee that the trustee would pull through, then the truster would have no need to trust that person. What we risk while trusting is the loss of the things that we entrust to others, including our self-respect, perhaps, which can be shattered by the betrayal of our trust. The following question is therefore of particular importance: “Under what conditions is trust warranted?”, ie, justified, well-grounded and plausible?
- Onora O‘Neill on Trust
- Hume on Trust
- David Hume's views of trust based on natural mutual sympathy.
- Trust and the State of Nature
- Thomas Hobbes argued that life in the state of nature would be, “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short”, in short, a state of war. Trust, therefore is, not possible between individuals but we can rely on each other if a strong state keeps us all in check through fear of consequences.
- Trust in Plato's Republic
- The Republic focuses on a the question: is justice good in itself, or is the fear of retribution our only reason to be just? The question is examined through a conversation between a number of other characters, including Plato?s brother Glaucon. Glaucon uses the story of Gyges to put the question in its starkest terms: if you had the opportunity to grab wealth and power at everyone else?s expense, without any chance of retribution, what reason could there be to pass it up?
'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.
- Lecture 1 - Spreading Suspicion
- Lecture 2 - Trust and Terror
- Lecture 3 - Called to Account
- Lecture 4 -Trust and Transparency
- Lecture 5 - Licence to Deceive
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?
- Amy Winehouse in hair fire drama
- Daily Mirror recycles the story about Amy Winehouse's hair catching fire
- Papers fooled by fake celeb stories
- From BBC Newsbeat
- Tabloids duped by celebrity hoaxes
- Yahoo News
- Starsuckers documentary 'Amy Winehouse in hair fire drama'
- Short video of documentary maker Chris Atkins' who has made the film 'Starsuckers' which opens on 28 October. He describes his hoax celebrity stories printed by tabloid newspapers including the story about Amy Winehouse's hair catching fire.
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.
- The Sun – Tabloid Lies
- Site's strapline: “Analysing and exposing the many deceptions of The Sun newspaper”
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.
- A good description of the Prisoner's Dillema
- The Prisoner's dilemma
- From The Stanford Encyclpedia of Philosophy
- On-line Prisoner's dilemma game
- Try it for yourself and find out which strategy works best.
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.
- Wikipedia article on The Tragedy of the Commons
- The Tragedy of the Commons
- The orginal article
- The Tragedy of the Commons and Beyond
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?
- Technology and Trust
New Vetting and Barring Scheme
- Checks on children's club drivers
- Parents who regularly drive children for sports or social clubs will have to be vetted or face fines of up to £5,000 under new rules.
- Children's author Pullman slams new vetting laws
- Philip Pulman feels the new law is a manifestation of Britain?s surveillance culture: “The default is that you shouldn?t trust people. But all of us — politicians, writers, artists – should work towards a society where the default is that a person can be trusted; that someone?s word of honour means something. But this simply isn?t happening. Society is just moving in the opposite direction.”
- Q&A: Vetting and Barring Scheme
- The government's new Vetting and Barring scheme will begin operating rom October 2009. Critics have branded the new rules as “insulting” and say they could deter volunteers.
- When panic shapes policy
- The government's Vetting and Barring Scheme is a child of moralpanic. It is a textbook case of how media hype, political expediency and bureaucratic process lead to conclusions that can later appear disproportionate.
- The spectre of the paedophile
- “I remember as a cub reporter attending a committal hearing for a man accused of sexually abusing children. It was a shocking case and I raced back to the office ready to write it up. But the news editor took me aside and quietly explained that”paedophilia“, a word I had never heard before, was not a suitable subject for the pages of his paper.
I do recall a sense of puzzlement that a crime with such appalling consequences for the victim should go unreported but I was junior and green. Some areas of life were simply taboo.
Today how different things are: we have Asda supermarket banning a picture of a baby's bottom as”nudity“and a think-tank complaining that routine criminal record checks on those working with children have made adults scared of interacting with kids.”
- Vetting contact rule under review
- The government is to look again at how a new vetting system for those working with children will operate.
- Vetting keeps our children safe
- Our children's safety is paramount ? ignore the indignation about checks on adults who have contact with them
- This vetting monster will harm children
- Protests about treating adults as potential paedophiles are too late, says Philip Johnston.
- If just one child is spared abuse, vetting is worth the hassle
- By George Galloway
- Campaign: The Case Against Vetting
- The Manifesto Club has published a number of reports showing how the expansion of vetting is damaging community life. The Case Against Vetting (October 2006) provides an overview of the dramatic expansion of vetting, and shows how this feeds a child protection bureaucracy, while undermining everyday relationships between adults and children.