Philosophy professor Paul Woodruff’s “The Ajax Dilemma” part of Employee Engagement Series

Gaёlle Pfister

Philosophy professor Paul Woodruff explained business principles through the analogy of Greek mythology as part of the Employee Engagement Series on Tuesday.

By closely examining a Greek myth in his novel “The Ajax Dilemma: Justice, Fairness, and Rewards,” Woodruff illuminates the issue of distributing rewards in both corporations and governments. The myth revolves around Ajax and Odysseus’ competition over the armor of the slain warrior, Achilles, which was to be given to the best soldier. A dilemma arises when the competitors do not fight based on the same values. The brave, loyal and hard-working Ajax feels he was dishonored when the reward goes to the persuasive, clever and tricky Odysseus.

“Sometimes equality is not possible,” Woodruff said. 

Woodruff said this is especially true when recognition and honor are what most people wish to see more than the monetary value of the reward itself.

“Rewards mark the difference between winners and losers,” Woodruff said. “Rewards are public recognition for contributions made. They express the values of the community.” 

In the work world, resentment can sometimes be generated by the unequal issuing of merit-based rewards. Woodruff asked the audience how to issue rewards to employees and still maintain the unity of the larger community.

According to Woodruff, the Greek myth deals with the issue of principles — do people value cleverness or hard work, strength or intelligence, loyalty or inventiveness? Woodruff said for those who resemble Ajax, justice seems to have withered. 

Woodruff said he thinks that although the “Ajax dilemma” will never be resolved peacefully, people should acknowledge that respect, sympathy, fairness and intelligence are necessary for justice.

Public relations junior Skye Zuehlan said she agreed that justice should be the priority when distributing rewards equally.

“The most equitable way to be just is by focusing on the contributions of each individual to the corporation, regardless of their distinctive strengths,” Zuehlan said.   

Woodruff suggests that while a viable solution to this issue might not be simple, people must be understanding and act fairly, according to everyone’s standards.