1st Edition

The Nature and Practice of Trust

By Marc A. Cohen Copyright 2023

    Across the social sciences and even in philosophy, trust is most often characterized in terms of expectations and probabilities. This book defends an alternative conception of trust as a moral phenomenon.

    When one person trusts another to do something, the first relies on the second’s commitment(s). So, trust reflects—and is a product of—agreement about the commitments and obligations that bind persons who live and work together. These commitments and obligations can be implicit, but building (or rebuilding) trust often requires making these commitments and obligations explicit, defining the terms of cooperation. Part 1 argues that this account of trust better captures our actual trust practices, and it draws out connections with both the philosophy and the social science literatures. It also describes the process of creating trust relationships with reference to trust invitations. Part 2 addresses practical applications of the account defended here, in the context of social relationships, economic systems, and within business organizations. These applications emphasize the material benefits of trust but, separate from those, Part 2 argues that trust is an intrinsic good—so we have moral reason to trust.

    The Nature and Practice of Trust will appeal to scholars and advanced students working in ethics, social and political philosophy, and the social sciences.

    Chapter 6 of this book is available for free in PDF format as Open Access from the individual product page at www.routledge.com. It has been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 license.

    Part 1: The Nature of Trust

    1. Moral and Amoral Conceptions of Trust

    2. Alternative Conceptions of Generalized Trust

    3. Trust and Calculativeness: Reconsidering Oliver Williamson on Trust

    Part 2: The Practice of Trust

    4. Trust in the Economic System, with a Schematic History 

    5. Practical Problems of Trust: The Question of Public Trust in Business, and Restoring Trust in Financial Services (or not)

    6. Trust as an Intrinsic Good, Moral Reason to Trust

    7. The Moral Psychology of Trust: Trust Begets Trustworthiness and also Begets Trust in Others


    Marc A. Cohen is Professor at Seattle University, USA, with a shared appointment in the Department of Management and the Department of Philosophy. His published work has appeared in American Philosophical Quarterly, Social Theory and Practice, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Journal of Business Ethics, and The Routledge Handbook of Trust and Philosophy (2020).

    "In this relatively short and accessible book, Cohen not only develops a novel yet plausible conception of trust (based on interpersonal practices of giving and accepting commitments) but he also engages a wide variety of quantitative social scientific research in testing various empirical beliefs about trust, such as whether ‘trust begets trust’ and ‘trust is contagious’. His commitments-based theory of trust will stand as a worthy alternative to those that have dominated previous discussions about trust."

    Susan Dimock, York University, Canada