Being-towards-death and Taxes: Heidegger, Disability and the Ontological Difference

  • Thomas Abrams M.A., Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University
Keywords: phenomenology, tax forms, Martin Heidegger, ontology, ontological difference


Phenomenological disability studies seek to bridge the gap between the personal experience and cultural production of disability.   This paper illustrates the manner in which the everyday experience of disability is shaped into a coherent object within the Canadian federal income tax regime.  The Canada Revenue Agency's T2201 Disability Tax Credit Certificate is an essential component in this regard, allowing successful applicants access to tax credits and other programs aimed at offsetting the costs of impairment faced by disabled Canadians.  This paper employs Martin Heidegger's notion of the ontological difference—the distinction between beings as merely present objects and Being as human experience—to highlight some of the difficulties faced translating human experience into bureaucratic categories.  The argument proceeds as follows.  First, the paper reviews the existing phenomenological disability studies literature and reviews the relevant work of Martin Heidegger.  Next, the T2201 form is introduced and discussed in light of the ontological difference.  By viewing disability as a merely present being, and not a way of Being, a great deal of experience is left out—especially that of exclusion.  The paper concludes by highlighting the dividends of the second section, both in terms of future tax forms, and the future of disability studies.

Author Biography

Thomas Abrams, M.A., Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University
Thomas is a Sociology PhD candidate at the department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University, Ottawa.  His dissertation is focused on the phenomenology of Martin Heidegger and the sociology of disability, tentatively titled "What Have We Got to Lose?" Phenomenology, Ontological Difference and the Sociology of Disability.