The topology of communities of trust

Mark Alfano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


Hobbes emphasized that the state of nature is a state of war because it is characterized by a fundamental and generalized distrust. Exiting the state of nature and the conflicts it inevitably fosters is therefore a matter of establishing trust. Extant discussions of trust in the philosophical literature, however, focus either on isolated dyads of trusting individuals or trust in large, faceless institutions. In this paper, I begin to fill the gap between these extremes by analyzing what I call the topology of communities of trust. Such communities are best understood in terms of interlocking dyadic relationships that approximate the ideal of being symmetric, Euclidean, reflexive, and transitive. Few communities of trust live up to this demanding ideal, and those that do tend to be small (between three and fifteen individuals). Nevertheless, such communities of trust serve as the conditions for the possibility of various important prudential epistemic, cultural, and mental health goods. However, communities of trust also make various problematic phenomena possible. They can become insular and walled-off from the surrounding community, leading to a distrust of out-groups. They can lead their members to abandon public goods for tribal or parochial goods. These drawbacks of communities of trust arise from some of the same mechanisms that give them positive prudential, epistemic, cultural, and mental health value, and so can, at most, be mitigated, not eliminated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-56
Number of pages27
JournalSotsiologicheskoe Obozrenie
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Community
  • Distrust
  • Emotion
  • Epistemology
  • Flourishing
  • Social epistemology
  • Topology
  • Trust


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