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.