The Disciplines’ Conceptualizations and Measurement of Trust

The Philosophers’ Perspective

Philosophical thoughts on the nature and conditions of trust can be traced back to the ancient Greek scholars. Early philosophers strove for a better understanding of trust as a characteristic of human nature (Bailey, 2002). Among these scholars - Plato (424-348 BC) being one of the most prominent representatives - it was widely accepted that individuals rely on others only if they are confident that the other's fear of detection and punishment prevents them from breaking the law and doing evil for their own self-interest. The picture drawn seems to be reasonable. This perspective also reveals an important characteristic of trust: in the situation when people trust others, they are confidently relying on them to take care of something which is valuable to them, but can be stolen or harmed by others if they wish. This means that if we trust, we make ourselves vulnerable at the same moment. However, we do so in the confidence that the other party will not exploit this vulnerability, but instead show a cooperative behaviour and actively take care of what makes us vulnerable (Bailey, 2002). This general understanding of trust was not forgotten during history. It now represents an important benchmark for a recognizable number of contemporary trust researchers. The ancient philosophers additionally also made the first investigations into the antecedents of trust, and identified love and sympathy as elements that elicit more trust, but they also stress the determinant role of cooperation and peace among human beings (Wang & Emurian, 2005).

Modern scholars - such as the moral philosopher and Hume-fellow Annette Baier - advanced the discipline’s knowledge on trust by focusing on interpersonal trust (i.e., trust between individuals) and the morality of trust relationships. One central philosophical definition of trust was pioneered by Baier (1994), as she views trust as an individual’s accepted vulnerability to another’s opportunity to harm the trusting person. Political philosophy can be regarded as an area of fruitful research, as members of this school have explored trust in terms of social values and benefits. For example, one prominent member of this school is Francis Fukuyama, who has not only recognized the role of interpersonal trust, but expanded his perspective to include issues of culture and society. In his politically oriented book entitled Trust, the social virtues and the creation of prosperity, Fukuyama (1995, p. 26) defines trust as “the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and cooperative behaviour, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of other members of that community”. He continues with the assertion that these norms can be “(...) about deep 'value' questions like the nature of God or justice, but they also encompass secular norms like professional standards and codes of behaviour”. According to Fukuyama, trust is regarded as a mechanism which engenders spontaneous sociability leading to shared values (or social norms) that are confirmed by the members of a social group (Wang & Emurian, 2005). These insights make it reasonable to argue that trust is regularly produced or is, in fact, a necessity for online interaction as it takes place in online review communities. The absence of trust would automatically lead to a loss of shared values, norms, and ethical principles, making information exchange meaningless.

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