Claudia Card, 1940-2015

Updated: A Celebration of Life will take place Sunday, Oct. 11 from 1:00 – 4:00 pm at the Pyle Center Alumni Lounge located on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

We report with sadness the death of Professor Claudia Falconer Card of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Saturday, September 12, 2015. She was the author of over one hundred articles and books, key works of moral and feminist philosophy including Confronting Evils: Terrorism, Torture, Genocide (Cambridge 2010), The Atrocity Paradigm: A Theory of Evil (Oxford 2002), and The Unnatural Lottery: Character and Moral Luck (Temple 1996). She was the president of the Central division of the APA 2010-2011, which she often described as her favorite division of the APA. She would want me to add that her BA was from UW-Madison, and her PhD in 1969 from Harvard was earned under the advising of John Rawls, whom she spoke of with affection as one of the most sensitive and generous of philosophers.

Family members report that her end was peaceful, and she was surrounded by friends and family, who have been reading to her the messages of friends, family, students, and colleagues as they poured in through the last few days. They add, “It was Claudia’s wish to have a celebration of life; we will share the details when they are available.”

Words do not seem adequate to describe my adviser, my teacher, and my friend. I ought to consider what the reader might benefit from knowing, and I want to write what Claudia would want me to say. I hope I do both as I observe the tradition at FP to feature a passage from the work of an author whose death we mark. It was Claudia’s aim in life to draw attention to misogyny and domestic abuse as evils, and as productive of moral hazards for the characters of all individuals involved. She was uncompromisingly feminist, even as she wrote about the compromises that oppression encourages her and all of us to make. So I close with some of the most salient observations she made on “the choices made by those who give in” to the pressures of misogyny, that “refusing to evaluate” oppressed individuals’ choices, including one’s own choices, “”exposes one to being manipulated and worse.”

It is important to reflect on the involvement of the oppressed in the perpetration of evils, not just on coercion inflicted by others. Doing so does not presuppose that the oppressed lacked character to begin with or were already hostile toward those they finally betray. On the contrary, the oppressed have, as Margaret Walker puts it, “harder lives” but not necessarily lives that exhibit less integrity. Many who struggle under oppressive situations resist its pitfalls. Still, oppression has degrees. Some with harder lives are relatively fortunate not to confront the worst. Many women’s strongest bonds are with other women, despite the double binds of patriarchy that do so much to pit women against one another. Yet people who are attached to others can also abuse them. The realization of women’s — or any victim’s — capacity to compromise with evil is disillusioning. Yet its undeniable history requires us to reflect on its implications. Being a victim does not imply that one is innocent. If initially an appreciation of female involvement in evil poses a risk to feminist solidarity, ignoring that involvement produces a superficial feminism. Good reasons for women to take seriously women’s capacity for evil are to move beyond myths of female innocence in our relationships with each other, to confront our responsibilities for past and potential damage to others, and to overcome the moral traps that oppression sets for us. (The Atrocity Paradigm, 217-18.)

I remain grateful to Claudia for being the sort of teacher who helped students to confront our responsibilities, and the responsibilities of others, in our relationship with her.

6 thoughts on “Claudia Card, 1940-2015

  1. I first saw Claudia in the mid-1980s at an APA meeting, where, as I soon learned was typical, she was surrounded by her grad students. After I got to know her she stayed with me a few times when Midwest SWIP met in East Lansing, and we’d stay with her when we came to the metaethics workshops in Madison. I got to know her best, though, when she asked me to take care of her after an operation–a time when many people are cranky but she was adorable. And not long ago she spent a delightful week with us in Knoxville. She was gentle, stubborn, brilliant, and as others are saying, unfailingly kind. I’ll miss our visits. Goodbye, dear friend.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I never met Card, though I have long admired her work. After her APA Dewey Lectures were published (anyone who has not read them really should) I sent her a short email saying how much I enjoyed them. Even though we’d never had any contact before, and there was no reason at all she should know or care who I was, she sent a really kind note back to me. As I’m sure we all know, not everyone in philosophy is a nice or decent person, but my impression of Card was that, in addition to being a very good philosopher (often in hard circumstances) she was also a really decent person.

  3. Great choice of text to quote, Kate. It captures both Claudia’s fierce incisiveness and her kindness. When I think of Claudia, I always think of Shakepeare’s line, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” Claudia had a fierce intellect, unrelenting in seeking truth and justice; she saw through nonsense, and yet could be so kind. She also had tremendous fortitude, and gave her all to whatever she did. Her philosophical legacy attests to this, but her hard work and perseverance was consistent across everything she did. When I stayed with her after her lung surgery in the summer of 2014, she was diligent about the prescribed schedule of walking and resting. She never missed a session on the treadmill (3x daily) and she rested well in between, I really thought she would beat the cancer into a long remission. As many friends know, she faced her impending death with courage and grace, and often said to me that she was deeply grateful for the wonderful life she had.

    A documentary interview with Claudia is in production from the folks at Rock Ethics, edited by Joan Callahan and Nancy Tuana. I got to watch it with Claudia while she was in Capitol Lakes rehab center, and hers is a remarkable life, the video well worth watching. For me, it was a special moment to see Claudia, as she was facing her death, seeing a younger self reflect on her own life and times. She was happy with the video, and she was happy with her life. A life well lived, marked by courage, generosity of spirit, love, friendship, and ever so many accomplishments and adventures.

  4. I was thinking about Claudia this evening after a discussion with some friends about feminism and what it means right now. I took her course “Feminism and Sexual Politics” (that might not be the exact title, but it’s close) in 1976 and it had a big impact on me and my worldview. I Googled her and came upon this page. So sorry to learn she is gone. She was an amazing instructor, philosopher, and human.

  5. I was a graduate student in Professor Card’s Lesbian Ethics class at Madison during the summer of I think 1987. I am just now coming across these memorial pieces because today I referred someone to a book and ideas I encountered for the first time in that course (the _Native Tongue_ trilogy by Suzanne Haden Elgin, may her memory be for a blessing) and I looked up Professor Card to let her know how frequently I still refer to so many insights from that class. It was the second time just this week; I had been talking with my own undergraduate class earlier in the week about Professor Card’s notion that the sexual ethics of “what lesbians do [in bed]” is rooted in “discovery and disclosure.” So. It seems I am too late to let her know in person. Thank you for this reflection and for maintaining this website.

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