The Ajax Dilemma: Justice, Fairness, and Rewards

ISBN : 9780199768615

Paul Woodruff
272 Pages
134 x 187 mm
Pub date
Dec 2011
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We live in a world where CEOs give themselves million pound bonuses even as their companies go bankrupt and ordinary workers are laid off; where athletes make millions while teachers struggle to survive; a world, in short, where rewards are often unfairly meted out. In The Ajax Dilemma, Paul Woodruff examines one of today's most pressing moral issues: how to distribute rewards and public recognition without damaging the social fabric. How should we honour those whose behaviour and achievement is essential to our overall success? Is it fair or right to lavish rewards on the superstar at the expense of the hardworking rank-and-file? How do we distinguish an impartial fairness from what is truly just? Woodruff builds his answer to these questions around the ancient conflict between Ajax and Odysseus over the armour of the slain warrior Achilles. King Agamemnon arranges a speech contest to decide the issue. Ajax, the loyal workhorse, loses the contest, and the priceless armour, to Odysseus, the brilliantly deceptive strategist who will lead the Greeks to victory. Deeply insulted, Ajax goes on a rampage and commits suicide, and in his rage we see the resentment of every loyal worker who has been passed over in favour of those who are more gifted, or whose skills are more highly valued. How should we deal with the 'Ajax dilemma'? Woodruff argues that while we can never create a perfect system for distributing just rewards, we can recognize the essential role that wisdom, compassion, moderation, and respect must play if we are to restore the basic sense of justice on which all communities depend. This short, thoughtful book, written with Woodruff's characteristic elegance, investigates some of the most bitterly divisive global issues today.


Part I Introductory
1. Ajax
2. What's at Stake: Rewards, Booty, and Incentives
Part II The Ajax Story
Part III Learning from the Ajax Story
1. A New Approach to Justice and Compassion
2. The Myth
3. Caring About Ajax
4. The Story Tellers
5. The Contest: What Went Wrong
Part IV Justice as Human Wisdom
1. Bad Losers
2. Compassion
3. Fairness
4. The Fairness Trap
5. Good Things and their Doubles
6. Justice
7. Anger and Justice in the Soul
8. Honor and Respect
9. Wisdom
10. Leadership
Afterword: Ajax and Odysseus: From Battlefield to Boardroom
(by C. Cale McDowell)

About the author: 

Paul Woodruff teaches philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where he has held positions for over twenty years as department chair, honors director, and dean. He served in the United States Army as a junior officer, 1969-71. His many books include Reverence, First Democracy, and The Necessity of Theater.

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