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Ethics / Philosophy

Trust in Speech

In my last post, I discussed the issue of recklessness in speech. Some speech is such that it can cause a loss of trust. Gossip is a particularly good example of that. There are two issues related to trust in speech. The first is what trust is and how it can be lost. The second issue is whether or not a loss of trust in speech is unique to speech in some way. Trust may be applied to a particular aspect of a person or to a person without restriction. It is broken when the aspect of the person is contrary to the trust.

Trust is always displayed in action. One could describe it as a form of active belief. Trust appears in two ways. The first way is trust that what a person says is true or what they do is good. This first way involves trust in a restricted sense. The second way is trust in a person themselves. This second way involves trusting a person without restriction. The second sense of trust only applies if a person is trusted in all ways that a person can be trusted. But trust applies to the goodness of actions, the truth of what someone says, the wisdom of someone’s advice and so on. A trustworthy person in every respect is someone who is perfectly good, never makes a mistake and is all powerful. In other words, the only person who could possibly be trusted absolutely and without restriction would be God.

Trust is displayed in action by removing the investigation required – if possible – to check the claims of the person being trusted. It includes all cases of counting the claim of a person as a reason for believing what they say. It includes following another person’s advice or believing in the opinion of an expert. Everyone must trust other people.

In order to break the trust of someone else, it is necessary to show that the trust placed in someone was unwise. If someone trusts a liar to speak truthfully, then that trust is unwise. But if someone who is normally truthful lies once, then it may not be unwise. Some practical judgment is necessary to determine which one is the case. My example concerns truth, but trust may be lost in any respect that it exists. If a foolish person is trusted to be wise, a bad person is trusted to be good or a false friend is trusted to be a true friend, then the trust was unwise.

Gossip is the most obvious and most significant case of a breach of trust. When one friend trusts another, this is the highest form of trust. When that friend is trusted with the secrets, goals and life of another person, they are trusted with what is of the highest value. Therefore, when they break that trust by gossiping, their breach of trust is only a little removed from outright betrayal.

Next, I will discuss the issue of truth in speech.

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