Defining Trust and E-Trust: From Old Theories to New Problems

Defining Trust and E-Trust: From Old Theories to New Problems

Mariarosaria Taddeo (University of Padua, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-575-9.ch002
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The paper provides a selective analysis of the main theories of trust and e-trust (that is, trust in digital environments) provided in the last twenty years, with the goal of preparing the ground for a new philosophical approach to solve the problems facing them. It is divided into two parts. The first part is functional toward the analysis of e-trust: it focuses on trust and its definition and foundation and describes the general background on which the analysis of e-trust rests. The second part focuses on e-trust, its foundation and ethical implications. The paper ends by synthesising the analysis of the two parts.
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Trust: A Decision Making Process

Trust is often understood as a relation between an agent (the trustor) and another agent or object (the trustee). The relation is supposed to be grounded on the trustor’s beliefs about the trustee’s capabilities and about the context in which the relation occurs. This is a generalisation of the definition of trust provided by (Gambetta, 1998). Before exploring in more depth Gambetta’s analysis, however, let me briefly recall some of the more relevant points in Luhmnann’s analysis of trust, (Luhmann, 1979). This analysis should be considered the starting point for the modern approach to trust and its cognate concepts.

Luhmann examines the function of trust and the social mechanisms through which trust is generated. He specifies the reason why society in general needs trust. Such a need rests on the fact that trust is a starting point for the derivation of rules for proper conduct, or for ways of acting successfully by reducing complexity and uncertainty in a given social system. Following Luhmann “trust is an effective form of complexity reduction”, (p. 8).1

For Luhmann, trust is a decision taken by the trustor on the basis of the following parameters: familiarity, expectation and risk. Familiarity is the acquaintance of the trustor with the potential trustee and with the systems. It is the variable that provides a reliable background for the trustor’s choice to trust. Expectation is the reason for which an agent decides to trust. For Luhmann, trust is present only when the expectation to trust makes a difference to a decision, otherwise what one has a simple hope. Trust is a risky investment. Following Luhmann, this is so because to trust is to take a decision and risks are a component of decision and action.

This brief overview of Luhmann’s analysis underlines the main issues present in any attempt to investigate trust: (a) trust as a result of a decision process, (b) the need of a reliable background as a necessary requirement to trust, (c) the expectation and (d) the risk related to the choice to trust. All these issues have been addressed in the theories analysed in the rest of this paper; particular attention to trust as a result of a decision process has been paid by Gambetta’s analysis.

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