Inspiring peopleJonathan Tallant

The philosophy of time and the philosophy of trust
Associate Professor
How would you explain your research?

Philosophers are sometimes stereotyped as asking the question ‘what do you mean by that?’ There’s a germ of truth in the stereotype! A lot of my research on trust starts with exactly that question. When we say things like ‘so and so is really trustworthy’, or ‘I trust them to do the right thing’, what are we actually committing ourselves to? What do we really mean?

I think that, as well as being really interesting, these questions have genuine practical applications. Following 2008, the banks accrued a huge loss of trust. But what does that amount to? And how do we fix it? Similarly, there are lots of issues around trust, AI and automation at the moment. One of the principle barriers to the uptake of autonomous vehicles is sometimes thought to be that people just don’t trust them.

If we want to remedy those cases, we probably need to have a clear picture of what trust consists in. After all, it’s hard to remedy a lack of trust if we don’t know what it is!

What inspired you to pursue this area of research?

I (nearly) accidentally read a paper on the topic of trust by a philosopher whose work in another field of philosophy I really admired. I thought that the paper on trust was brilliant! But also wrong! I started working through what I thought was going wrong, how the practicalities played out, and before I knew it, I was pursuing a programme of research.

How will your research affect the average person?

Some of the work that I’ve done with SMEs so far has involved looking at how they can present themselves as more trustworthy and how they can make themselves more deserving of that trust. It’s not that they’re morally bad companies. Far from it. But unless we have a clear fix on what trust is, it’s hard to shape policy and communications to really reveal to clients your good intentions. Obviously, contributing to making companies more trustworthy, and recognised as being such, would be fantastic!

It’s hard to remedy a lack of trust if we don’t know what it is
What’s the biggest challenge in your field?

Philosophy has an image problem - this sense that we’re all stuck in ivory towers, failing to interact with the ‘real world’. It’s hard to engage with the world when people think you’re fundamentally disinterested in what they do.

What’s the greatest moment of your career so far?
I was massively proud when my first PhD student graduated.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Listen to people outside academia, as well as those inside. Reflect, critically, on what everyone says. Keep going!
What research other than your own really excites you?

There’s too much to list here! In the discipline of philosophy there’s some wonderful work being done on how to understand and better support groups of people who have been, and continue to be, marginalised. Elizabeth Barnes and Kate Manne (to name but two) have done some superb work on this. There’s also great work going on in the philosophy of science and metaphysics.

But that’s just in philosophy and the world’s a big place! I mean, there’s some fabulous stuff coming out of the MRI centre here at Nottingham that’s just mind-blowing, and some of the interdisciplinary work associated with the Beacons is phenomenal.

Are you working with any partners or collaborating?
In the past I’ve worked with a multi-national as well as a range of SMEs. I’m currently doing some more work with SMEs, as well as some local charities.

Global Research Theme
Cultures and Communication

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Jonathan is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts. He joined Nottingham in 2007, having spent two years at the University of Leeds. Prior to that he completed a PhD on the metaphysics of time at Durham University, working with E.J. Lowe.

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