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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.
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 TheNecessity of Theater.
Table of Contents
Part One Introductory Ajax What's at Stake: Rewards, Booty, and Incentives
Part Two The Story of Ajax
Part Three Learning from the Ajax Story A New Approach to Justice and Compassion The Myth Caring About Ajax The Storytellers The Contest: What Went Wrong
Part Four Justice as Human Wisdom Bad Losers Compassion Fairness The Fairness Trap Good Things and their Doubles Justice Anger: Justice in the Soul Honor and Respect Wisdom Leadership The Answer: How to Survive the Dilemma
Afterword Ajax and Odysseus: From Battlefield to Boardroom, by C. Cale McDowell