Trust Out of Distrust

Edna Ullmann-Margalit

The paper aims to establish the possibility of trust from within a Hobbesian framework. It shows that distrust situations can be structured in two ways, the first referred to as Hard and the second as Soft, both of which are compatible with Hobbes’s stark assumptions about human nature. In Hard distrust situations (which are prisoner’s-dilemma structured) the distrust strategy is dominant; in the Soft variety (which are stag-hunt structured) trust is an equilibrium choice. In order to establish the possibility of trust there is no need to claim that the state of nature is Soft rather than Hard, nor even that Soft is likelier. Game theoretical considerations show that all that is needed to give trust a chance is the ambiguity or uncertainty on the part of the players as to which of the two basic situations of distrust in fact obtains: which game was picked by Nature for them to play.

May, 2002
Published in: 
The Journal of Philosophy 99 (2002), 532-548