Trust

Trust can coexist, and has long coexisted, with contrived and perpetuated inequality. That may well explain and to some extent justify the distrust that many decent vigilant people display toward any attempt to reinstate a climate of trust as a social and moral good. Like most goods, a climate of trust is a risky thing to set one’s sights on.3 What we risk are not just mutually lethal betrayals and breakdowns of trust, but exploitation that may be unnoticed for long periods because it is bland and friendly. The friendly atmosphere — the feeling of trust — is of course a pleas- ant thing, and itself a good, as long as it is not masking an evil.

Trust and distrust are feelings, but like many feelings they are what Hume called “impressions of reflexion,” feeling responses to how we take our situation to be. T h e relevant “situation” is our position as regards what matters to us, how well or badly things are going for us. T h e pleasant feeling that others are with us in our endeavors, that they will help, not hinder, us, and the unpleasantly anxious feeling that others may be plotting our downfall or simply that their intentions are inscrutable, so that we do not know what to expect, are the surface phenomena of trust and distrust. This surface is part of the real good of genuine trust, the real evil of suspicion and distrust. But beneath the surface is what that sur- face purports to show us: namely, others’ attitudes and intentions toward us, their good (or their ill) will. The belief that their will is good is itself a good, not merely instrumentally but in itself, and the pleasure we take in that belief is no mere pleasure but part of an important good. Trust is one of those mental phenomena atten- tion to which shows us the inadequacy of attempting to classify mental phenomena into the “cognitive,” the “affective,” and the “conative.”

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