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Research at St Andrews

How to be trustworthy

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The book articulates and defends a core notion of trustworthiness as avoiding unfulfilled commitments. This is motivated via accounts of both trust and distrust in terms of perceived commitment. Avoiding unfufilled commitments is crucial both to practical trustworthiness, and to trustworthiness in speech; on this picture, assertion involves promising to speak truthfully, and simultaneously either keeping that promise or breaking it. Both assertion and the incurring of practical commitments are governed by competence norms, as well as norms of sincerity. So what should we do if we want to be trustworthy? Two perspectives are important: we need to act in line with our existing commitments, but in addition we need to approach potential new commitments with care. We can become untrustworthy by taking on too many—or over-challenging—commitments, no matter how well-meaning we are. Considered narrowly, trustworthiness typically directs us away from new commitments, but this creates significant costs both for ourselves and for those around us. Moreover, we cannot always avoid new commitments, and encounter uncertainty about how we become committed. We face obstacles to being trustworthy, and trustworthiness can direct us to act in ways which are ungenerous, or otherwise unlikeable. Moreover, those of us who live in challenging personal circumstances, whether through material impoverishment, poor health, social exclusion, or power imbalances, face greater obstacles to being trustworthy. This is compounded by the fact that such circumstances—and their impact on the pursuit of trustworthiness—are not always visible to other people.


Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages151
ISBN (Electronic)9780191881695
ISBN (Print)9780198843900
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sep 2019

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