Do you trust your valentine? How bad is it if you don’t?

Whilst you enjoy a romantic date this Valentine’s Day, are you secretly wondering if you can trust your partner? And do you feel bad if you don’t?

Worry not, according to an expert in philosophy at the University of Nottingham; this lack of trust is not as bad as you might think.

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Dr Jonathan Tallant, from the Department of Philosophy at the University, and author of – Commitment in Cases of Trust and Distrust’, says: “It might sound pretty bad if you don’t trust your valentine, after all, trust is a good thing, right? But whilst that’s generally true, it’s important to recognise that not trusting someone is actually quite different from distrusting or mistrusting them.

“If you’re out on a blind date this 14 February, then the person that you meet, at least to start with, is going to be someone who you neither trust, nor mistrust. Simply, you’ve not had enough time to form a view. So, even if you don’t trust your valentine just yet, there’s no need to fear just yet.”

But if distrust isn’t the same as not trusting and both of those are different from trusting, then what are these different notions? How do we make sense of them?

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According to one view, to trust someone to do something requires two things.

  • You’ve got to think that they have a commitment to doing it, and either:
  • You rely upon them to meet that commitment, or, you believe that they could be relied upon to meet that commitment if asked.

That’s very different from distrust. To distrust someone to do something requires three things.

  • You’ve got to think that they’ve a commitment to doing it
  • You’ve got to not rely upon them to do it.
  • You’ve got to not rely upon them to do it because you have reservations about whether they can be relied upon to do it

Although this sounds complex, it is easy to understand when applied to a certain scenario.

Dr Tallant explains: “Suppose that my wife mistrusts me to get her flowers on Valentine’s Day. The definition of distrust would suggest that – my wife knows that I’m committed to getting flowers for her; I’ve promised! That’s point 1. But she won’t rely upon me to do so (perhaps she buys some for herself). That’s point 2. And she doesn’t rely upon me because she doesn’t believe that I can be relied upon to bring her flowers (despite my promise). And that’s point 3. Thus, my wife mistrusts me to bring her flowers, despite my (annual) best intentions.

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“And that, of course, is very different from simply not trusting someone to do something.

“If we think about a blind date: if it really is a blind date, then we’ve no reason to think that they have a commitment to bringing flowers. We certainly shouldn’t think that they’re committed to it. How could we come to think that? We’ve never met them! We have no view about their commitments at this point. Because of that, we don’t mistrust a blind date to bring flowers: point 1 isn’t right. Nor do we trust them to do so! For point 1 about trust isn’t right, either. It won’t be until after valentines that we can start to trust or mistrust—for better or for worse.”

A full copy of the paper can be found here.