Claudia Card got her undergraduate degree in philosophy from UW-Madison and has taught the subject at her alma mater since 1966 following a four-year detour for graduate school at Harvard. She has taught the same course, introduction to ethics, to generations of Badgers. The internationally known scholar and Pardeeville native shares a West Side house with cats Persia and Mischief. She’s recovering from treatment for lung cancer, which doctors discovered last spring while treating her for pneumonia.
Who’s the MVP (most valuable philosopher) in your life?
For me, it’s been John Rawls. I went to Harvard to study with him. As a teacher he did not do what most of our contemporaries did, which was to try to poke holes in other people’s arguments. He would build on what he thought was right with someone’s ideas. He was just a total gentleman in that way.
You’re working on your third book about evil. How did you come to study the topic?
I realized around the end of the 1990s that I had been teaching about particular kinds of evil throughout my career. So I thought, ‘You know, why not just confront as a philosopher this concept of evil?’”
Is there more evil in the world today than in earlier generations?
I don’t know how you’d answer that because so many evils, like rape for example, are underreported. I don’t believe that evils have increased or decreased because I don’t have evidence for either. What’s plausible to me is that they take new forms as technology advances.
Do you have a favorite breakfast?
What I love to do is make a big cheese and spinach soufflé, and then have a big puffy spoonful of it every morning. I make waffles to go with that. I also have a bowl of fruit: blueberries and bananas.
Do you follow other daily routines?
Now I do because I’m a cancer survivor. On June 26, I had lung surgery, and less than a month later I started a rigorous program of chemotherapy that ended in mid-October. In order to survive this process, I’ve had to have daily routines. Right now, I’m doing cardio exercises, physical therapy and even singing exercises.
Somebody told me that if you just sing for 10 minutes a day, it helps to strengthen your lungs. Next semester I’m back on full-time teaching. I have to lecture to 100 students. I don’t like using a microphone. I’m kind of in training for that.
What songs do you sing?
I start with, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” I whistle a happy tune, (then sing) “Do Re Mi” from “Sound of Music.” The last one is also from the “Sound Of Music”: “Edelweiss.” If I do each of those songs three times, that takes up most of 10 minutes.
I saw you’ve published papers arguing that lesbians and gays should oppose marriage.
I’ve been an out, in-your-face lesbian on campus since the middle 1970s. People would expect me to be for gay marriage. Well, I’m against discrimination, but I’m also highly critical of the institution of marriage.
What sports do you like?
Women’s basketball and volleyball. I’ve had season tickets for 20 years. I love it when I have a member of either of those teams in my classes.
In your career, did you ever think of doing anything else?
I started out as a chemistry major at UW-Madison. After the first semester I knew that the math was going to make it so unpleasant for me. I discovered philosophy and I liked it so much that I wanted to take more philosophy courses than anything else. Fortunately I had an excellent adviser, Marcus Singer, who wrote me letters of recommendation. That’s how I got into Harvard. I’ve just loved being a professor. I think it’s a great life.
Have your recent health problems changed your philosophy about life?
Not really. It’s got me to going back and reliving and remembering various periods of my life. But I don’t think it’s had an impact on my philosophical views. I’ve always been a little on the optimistic side, which I’d say is an advantage in a situation like this.
— Interview by Dan Simmons