Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Jeffrey M. Courtright


The phenomenon of trust is historically underrepresented as a topic of serious investigation in Western philosophy. This dissertation investigates the integral role that trust plays in enabling and sustaining meaning and significance in human existence. This thesis is substantiated in the following ways.

First, I explicate various senses and ways of thinking about trust in the work of two historically important philosophers, Plato and Nietzsche. I show that Socrates, in Plato's dialogue Phaedo, articulates the feeling of being entrusted with life, a feeling that one experiences as a call to existential responsibility, to proper "care for the soul." Further, Socrates enjoins his interlocutors to trust in logos as part of properly caring for the soul at the same time that he subtly warns against the danger of misplaced or improper trust, which is represented by those who possess an ascetic mistrust and disavowal of finite and earthly life. Turning to Nietzsche, frequently characterized as a "master of suspicion," I demonstrate that he thinks that "trust in life" is necessary for human beings, but that a pathological distrust of earthly life has led to the possibility of "radical nihilism," which represents the devastating loss of trust in life (i.e., mere "bare" life). In order to avoid radical nihilism, Nietzsche advocates a healthy mistrust of all pathological forms of trust and the creation of a vital trust of life that is "faithful to the earth" (in the words of his Zarathustra).

After these historical analyses, I offer a phenomenological description of trust that focuses on the most global, and diffuse manifestation of trust: existential trust. I unpack this idea of existential trust and distinguish its four affective characteristics: supportive upholding, vulnerable openness, attuned orientation, and demand. I then argue that in order to explain its global and pervasive character, existential trust is best understood on the model of Heidegger's concept of mood. The final chapter extends the analysis of existential trust to ethical relationships and demonstrates how interpersonal encounters can be understood at a primordial level in terms of being entrusted with the care of the other person's life.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.