Fearless Claudia Card defines feminism, confronts evil

January 9th 2013
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[caption id="attachment_11117" align="alignleft" width="300"] Claudia Card has taught philosophy at UW-Madison for 46 years.[/caption]

In her forty-six years as a philosophy professor at UW-Madison, Claudia Card has not only defined feminist theory, but forged paths through the troubled forests of homophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, and environmental degradation.

Her recent lectures on torture, evil, and inexcusable wrongs have become as popular as her 1980s talks on gender, moral luck, and “what lesbians do.”

Card has become such a forceful voice on the roots, manifestations, and legacies of evil that she was asked to address the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado this coming spring on the topics of torture, terrorism, and genocide.

Fearless engagement with difficult subjects has earned Card many accolades, but she was especially pleased to receive UW-Madison’s 2011 Hilldale Award for excellence in teaching, research and service. Says Card: “It feels like a reward for my whole career.”

The Emma Goldman (WARF) Professor of Philosophy began her distinguished career as valedictorian of her senior class in Pardeeville, WI.

Professor Card, how did growing up in Pardeeville, WI shape you?
My family is responsible for my early interest in philosophy. My father and his brother took courses at UW-Madison with Max Otto in the 1930s. Also, I spent countless hours in the Pardeeville Library. We had our 50th high school reunion in 2008 and I invited two of my teachers.

You graduated from UW-Madison with a BA in Philosophy in 1962, and returned to teach in 1966. How has the Philosophy Department changed since you studied here?
Everything has changed. Class sizes have grown. Many new courses have been added. There was only one woman in the graduate program when I was here.

Your research and writing widened greatly over the years. How did you come to evil and genocide, from sex/gender/feminism issues?
In 1998 I realized that I had been teaching about evils in many courses my whole career—evils of sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, racism. So I decided it was time to address the concept of evil in general.

Besides the usual suspects (Kant, Schopenhauer), what authors can be found on your bookshelf?
Everything by John Rawls, Joel Feinberg and H.L.A. Hart. Works by Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich, Marilyn Frye and other radical feminists. Lots of Holocaust survivor narratives and histories. Lots of works on environmental ethics.

What do the coming years hold, in terms of work and life?
I’m at work on the third volume in what is turning out to be my trilogy on evil. I intend to keep teaching as long as I am able.

This story was originally featured in the Department of Philosophy's Fall 2012 alumni newsletter.