The Ajax Dilemma

Justice, Fairness, and Rewards

by Paul Woodruff

We live in a world where CEOs give themselves million dollar 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 honor those whose behavior 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 armor 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 armor, 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 favor 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 issues in American today.

  • Oxford University Press; October 2011
  • ISBN: 9780199877560
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure ePub format
  • Title: The Ajax Dilemma
  • Author: Paul Woodruff
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

"The timing is excellent for The Ajax Dilemma: Justice, Fairness and Rewards...this little book makes a worthy contribution to the issue of how to distribute rewards in both government and business. In this age, the story of Ajax is sure to resonate with many."--Nancy F. Koehn, The New York Times
"The Ajax Dilemma by Paul Woodruff, a classical scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, provides intriguing insights... It is impossible to do justice to the subtlety of Woodruff's work in such a short space but some of the main themes can be highlighted. It should be apparent that there are many contemporary Ajaxes, loyal and hardworking employees, who can feel slighted by the rewards lavished on certain colleagues."--Daniel Ben-Ami, Financial Times
"Greek tragedies reflect about fundamental values and the sometimes agonizing tensions among them, using mythic stories of searing power. Paul Woodruff uses Sophocles' Ajax to create a gripping reflection about leadership both then and now. A classical scholar who has served as a leading administrator at the University of Texas, and who earlier served as an officer in the Vietnam War, Woodruff writes about leadership and its difficulties with both insider knowledge and poetic sensibility. Readers will argue with this book, and many will strongly disagree with Woodruff's ideas about rewards, fairness, and particular justice. But that's the great merit of the book: it is totally honest, totally open to argument and refutation, written with a passionate integrity that calls for a like integrity in the reader."--Martha Nussbaum, The University of Chicago
"Woodruff tells a great story about why leaders need justice, compassion, and wisdom to be effective problem solvers. Everyone in a management or leadership position should read this book for the wise lessons it teaches."--Joanne B. Ciulla, Coston Family Chair in Leadership and Ethics, University of Richmond
"In this short and unusual book Paul Woodruff shows us by example that there is more than one way to do good philosophy. Officially the book is about justice and fairness, but its real topic is leadership in all its forms -- in academia, the military, and in business. Woodruff puts the Greek legend of Ajax to wonderfully inventive use, deriving all sorts of practical lessons from it about how be a good leader, a good follower, a good loser, and a good winner. The message of The Ajax Dilemma can be put into practice, and it should be. This book should be required reading for anyone who finds themselves running anything."--Jonathan Dancy, Department of Philosophy, The University of Texas at Austin

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.