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Theoretical Groundwork

The question of what trust actually is has long interested analytic philosophers of various fields. Moral philosopher Annette Baier suggests that trust is a three-part relation, that is, a “relationship where A has entrusted B with some of the care of C and where B has some discretionary powers in caring for C" (Baier, 1986, p. 237). In caring for C, B is supposed to act on behalf of A in contexts where A does not take care of C. As the care for C rests in B’s hands, B is expected to endorse an attitude of dedicated goodwill towards A. A, in turn, has to be confident about B’s goodwill (Jones, 1996).

When epistemologists analyze trust, however, they are typically interested only in a particular element of such trust relations. They are interested in A’s trusting B, her expectation of care towards B. For epistemologists, trust attitudes are the problem; and the questions that they concern themselves with are questions of whether A is warranted in trusting B and what A can reasonably expect to gain from trusting B. Yet not only do epistemologists tend to focus on trust attitudes, they also focus specifically on epistemic trust, discussing its epistemic warrant and its possible epistemic function.

What is epistemic trust? It is knowledge-concerned trust. Many epistemologists who consider epistemic trust hold it to be a knowledge- facilitating attitude in that it can result, under certain conditions, in knowledge that without epistemic trust could not be had. Epistemic trust can enable A, who does the trusting, to acquire the knowledge that p by relying upon a trusted person B (see, e.g., Fricker, 2002; Goldberg, 2011; Hardwig, 1991; Kappel, 2014; McCraw, 2015). Precisely under which conditions, A is warranted to place epistemic trust in B is debated. It is, however, generally assumed that for an adult A to place epistemic trust in a person B it is necessary for A to regard B as being “epistemically well-placed" with respect to the belief in question (McCraw, 2015), a condition I have described with reference to Hardwig (1985, 1991) as B’s possession of intellectual authority in Chap. 7.

Epistemic trust, too, can be construed as a three-part relation between a trusting person A, a trusted person B and a something (C), the care of which A entrusts B with. Here, C is the justification for the belief that p, a justification for which A relies upon B. Note, however, that B cares for C only indirectly. A’s justification for the belief that p need not be B’s primary concern. Rather, what B is supposed to care about is his intellectual authority concerning the observations, measurements, arguments or advice he passes on to A. If B testifies thatp to A, conveying his testimony as a piece of (scientific) knowledge, then B should have a justification for the belief that p that conforms with those (scientific) standards of justification that apply. Yet, as I have elaborated in Chap. 7, B’s justification will not be identical to A’s justification for thatp—but B’s justification will be “folded into" A’s justification because A relies upon B’s intellectual authority.

While today’s debate about epistemic trust is, generally, benign to the idea that trust can indeed result in justified believing, Hardwig began to work upon trust at a time when epistemologists were rather skeptical about its epistemic potential. This may explain why he construes trust in strict analogy to evidence gained from observation, inference or memory. Like such evidence, he argues, trust in a person B provides a “reason" for A’s adopting the belief that p in reference to B’s maintaining that p. In Chap. 7 I have characterized reasons of this kind as second-order reasons. Since these reasons do not pertain to “immediate"—i.e., observational or inferential—evidence for the belief thatp, Hardwig characterizes trust as

“blind" (Hardwig, 1991, p. 693).

However, that Hardwig calls trust blind must not lead to the conception that trust attitudes were de-coupled from empirical evidence concerning the trustworthiness of the person trusted. In fact, Hardwig instructively distinguishes two facets of trustworthiness that enables us to specify how and in which sense it can be empirically evidenced. According to him, the trustworthiness of a person concerns both moral and epistemic character. While moral character concerns dedication and honesty, epistemic character concerns skillfulness and expertise (Hardwig, 1991, p. 700). A trustworthy person, hence, is one who is sincere and makes as few mistakes as possible.

The belief (that p) whose justification is at stake in epistemic trust relations can take many forms in collaborative scientific practice. As elaborated in Chap. 7, it can be a belief based on a collaborator’s testimony, asserting that “the measurement is x." Or, it can be a belief based on what a collaborator’s labor implicitly conveys. By, for example, making a chemical compound available to a colleague, a scientist implies that this compound has been prepared correctly. But a prerequisite to work with these contributions is to form beliefs about collaborators’ contributions and their trustworthiness.

Epistemic trust relations involve trust attitudes (A’s trusting B), the epistemic status of which is debated among social epistemologists. Should one conceive of attitudes of epistemic trust as beliefs and, if so, do the standards of justification that apply to knowledge apply to them? Hardwig seems to be inclined to argue that trust attitudes can, indeed, be “known" when he argues that the trustworthiness of a collaborator is something that a scientist can rationally rely upon (Hardwig, 1991, p. 699; see also, e.g., Fricker, 2006, p. 232). Other authors have taken a different, if not opposing, stance. In rejecting Hardwig’s account of trust, Klemens Kappel, for example, characterizes trust as a non-inferential disposition, a “feeling of confidence about someone or something" (Kappel, 2014, p. 2017). Such a feeling cannot and need not be evidentially justified. As a non-inferential disposition, thus, trust cannot be “known"; and Kappel accordingly claims that collaborating scientists need not, in fact cannot and “do not know, and are not justified in believing, that other agents are trustworthy within their specialised domains" (Kappel, 2014, p. 2017). Nevertheless, Kappel argues, when epistemic trust as a noninferential disposition “is discriminating and defeater-sensitive, it can ground knowledge and justification” (Kappel, 2014, p. 2011). Integrative accounts of trust have sought to overcome the divide that Kappel sees between accounts of trust attitudes as justifiable beliefs or non-justifiable feelings. Karen Frost-Arnold, for example, argues that trust involves cognitive attitudes that can involve beliefs, though they are to be considered broader than that (Frost-Arnold, 2014).

It matters what precisely trust attitudes are because that will tell us how trust can and should be acquired. When epistemic trust requires A merely to adopt a non-inferential disposition, then a trust can be warranted by an a priori entitlement. Burge (1993) and Coady (1992), for example, argue that trust in a person’s testimony can be justified a priori. When, however, epistemic trust requires A to establish reasons for believing in the trustworthiness of B, then A has to put considerable effort into warranting an attitude of trust toward B, establishing reliable criteria for assessing B’s trustworthiness (cf. Goldman, 1999; Kitcher, 1993; Origgi, 2004). Again, some authors suggest ways to integrate both positions, combining a priori entitlement and empirical warrant. Differentiating between facets of trustworthiness, Kristina Rolin argues that, while scientists are expected to establish an empirical warrant for the competence and skillfulness of collaborators, “the moral character of the collaborator is to a large extent taken for granted” (Rolin, 2014, p. 76; see also Andersen 2014; Rolin 2015). Other authors have argued that, while trust may initially rest upon an a priori entitlement, this entitlement becomes more and more irrelevant the longer a relation of epistemic dependence lasts and the trusting person A is able to collect evidence for the trustworthiness of B (Adler, 1994; Fricker, 2002).

The ambivalent, divided portrait that epistemologists draw of trust and its epistemic status leaves us to wonder how collaborating scientists deal with epistemic trust in scientific practice, that is, under conditions in which collaboration is a necessity. Do they trust by default? How much care do they take to establish the trustworthiness of collaborators? How much care do they feel they should take? These are the questions that my empirical investigation addresses.

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