The Ajax Dilemma by Paul Woodruff

Massimo Pigliucci distinguishes justice from fairness in Paul Woodruff’s latest tome.

In the 5th century BCE, Sophocles wrote a tragedy about the rivalry between the Greek heroes Ajax and Odysseus. The two competed for the title of most valuable man in the army that was laying siege to Troy. The prize was Achilles’ armor (he was dead, you know), which was forged by none other than the god Hephaestus. The Greeks’ leader, Agamemnon, was a bit of a coward, and he made a jury of soldiers decide the contest instead of taking responsibility for the decision himself. The soldiers unanimously awarded the armor to Odysseus (who eventually did lead them to victory, via his Trojan Horse stratagem), even though Ajax had arguably been the more valiant soldier, and many owed their life to his bravery in battle.

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