International prize for paper on trust

  • Date

    Wed 20 Jan 21

Dr Matt Bennett

A paper exploring the concept of trust has won a top prize from the American Philosophical Association.

Dr Matt Bennett’s paper, Demoralising Trust, which was written before he secured his current position, was awarded the 2020 Journal of Value Inquiry Prize which recognises unpublished, article-length studies by a non-academically affiliated philosopher.

It was described by the judges as “not only a very well written and argued paper but also a highly original one. It makes an important contribution to ongoing discussion about trust and related issues.”

In Demoralising Trust, Dr Bennett argues against the long-held philosophical view that we trust people because we think they are morally good. Instead, he demonstrates that sometimes we trust people without any judgements of their moral character, and sometimes people disappoint our trust without wronging us.

Dr Bennett explained: “My commitments theory maintains that we trust people because we think they are committed to something that motivates them to act in ways favourable to us. Trust between friends, for example, is often grounded in confidence in a person’s commitment to the friendship. One of the consequences of my theory is that not all disappointed trust amounts to betrayal.”

Dr Bennett was inspired to write the article after preparing a lecture about trust for his students when he was previously working at the University of Cambridge.

“Philosophers tend to assume that every time a person’s trust is disappointed it involves one person betraying another. I felt that this narrowed and distorted the reality of trust, and tried out provisional ideas with my students, who were enthusiastic enough to give me the confidence to write the paper,” he said.

“The paper came about almost completely by accident, and I wrote it only because I happened to be teaching the relevant material that year, so to me the award suggests that sometimes our best work is based on ideas that are unpredictable and unplanned,” he added.

Dr Bennett, whose research examines the shortcomings of moral philosophical concepts, particularly in guilt, moral responsibility and trust, is a Senior Research Fellow on the interdisciplinary Leverhulme-funded project Competition and Competitiveness, led by Professor Timo Jütten.

Professor Jütten said: “We’re really proud of Matt’s success. Winning the Journal of Value Inquiry Prize is a huge achievement. Demoralising Trust is an important, original contribution to the growing literature on trust and published in the world-leading journal for moral philosophy. Matt’s work exemplifies all the qualities that we value at Essex: clarity, rigour and an interest in philosophical issues that have real-world impact.”

Demoralising Trust will be published in Ethics, one of the world's leading journals on moral philosophy, in April.