Forms, Foundations, Functions, Failures and Figures

Bart Nooteboom

Trust deals with a range of questions such as: what are the roles of trust? What can we trust in? Can trust serve as an instrument for the governance of relations? Is trust a substitute, a precondition or an outcome of contracts? The author then goes on to analyse what trust is based on, what its limits are, how it grows and how it can also break down. The role of intermediaries is also discussed.

Chapter 7: Summary and Conclusions

Bart Nooteboom

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, industrial organisation


This chapter summarizes the answers to the questions specified in Chapter 1, and reviews directions for further research. The ten questions from Chapter 1 are repeated below, in Table 7.1. 7.1 TRUST, PROBABILITY AND CALCULATION This concerns questions four and five from Table 7.1. In much literature, trust has been rendered as a subjective probability. In Chapter 2, I argued that trust in people (behavioural trust) cannot entail certainty and cannot be treated and calculated as a probability. The reason is the presence in human behaviour of radical uncertainty (unlike laws of nature): the set of future options for behaviour, for one’s partner and for oneself, is open; the range of options is indeterminate. As Shackle indicated long ago, under such conditions one cannot employ the notion of probability in any usual sense (satisfying the axioms of probability theory). Next to uncertainty about future options of choice, there is uncertainty concerning preferences, which are also subject to unforeseeable change. I propose that even if prediction were possible, it would be unethical to claim full knowledge about other people’s future options and preferences for action, since that would rob them of their autonomy of choice. As a result, trust in behaviour can never yield certainty, and cannot be completely calculative. It always remains a wager to a greater or lesser extent. That does not deny that there may be better and worse reasons for trust. There may be good reasons on the basis of available evidence from one’s own experience...

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