Moral and Amoral Conceptions of Trust, with an Application in Organizational Ethics

Journal of Business Ethics 112 (1):1-13 (2013)
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Across the management, social science, and business ethics literatures, and in much of the philosophy literature, trust is characterized as a disposition to act given epistemic states—beliefs and/or expectations about others and about the risks involved. This characterization of trust is best thought of as epistemological because epistemic states distinguish trust from other dispositions. The epistemological characterization of trust is the amoral one referred to in the title of this paper, and we argue that this characterization is conceptually inadequate. We outline and defend an alternative conception of trust as a moral phenomenon: when A trusts B to do something, A invites B to acknowledge and accept an obligation; when B accepts the invitation, B takes on an obligation; in that way trust creates an obligation. We conclude with an application, drawing out the difference between the epistemological conception of trust and our own in the context of Ghoshal et al.'s (Sloan Management Review 40:9—20, 1995, Academy of Management Learning & Education 4:75—91, 2005) critique of transaction cost theories of the firm



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Marc A. Cohen
Seattle University

References found in this work

The emotional construction of morals.Jesse J. Prinz - 2007 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Trust and antitrust.Annette Baier - 1986 - Ethics 96 (2):231-260.
Trust as an affective attitude.Karen Jones - 1996 - Ethics 107 (1):4-25.
Deciding to trust, coming to believe.Richard Holton - 1994 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 72 (1):63 – 76.

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