No One's Ways

No One's Ways

An Essay on Infinite Naming

By Daniel Heller-Roazen

From Homer's Outis—“No One,” or “Non-One,” “No Man,” or “Non-Man”—to “soul,” “spirit,” and the unnamable.

Distributed for Zone Books





From Homer's Outis—“No One,” or “Non-One,” “No Man,” or “Non-Man”—to “soul,” “spirit,” and the unnamable.

Homer recounts how, trapped inside a monster's cave, with nothing but his wits to call upon, Ulysses once saved himself by twisting his name. He called himself Outis: “No One,” or “Non-One,” “No Man,” or “Non-Man.” The ploy was a success. He blinded his barbaric host and eluded him, becoming anonymous, for a while, even as he bore a name.

Philosophers never forgot the lesson that the ancient hero taught. From Aristotle and his commentators in Greek, Arabic, Latin, and more modern languages, from the masters of the medieval schools to Kant and his many successors, thinkers have exploited the possibilities of adding “non-” to the names of man. Aristotle is the first to write of “indefinite” or “infinite” names, his example being “non-man.” Kant turns to such terms in his theory of the infinite judgment, illustrated by the sentence, “The soul is non-mortal.” Such statements play major roles in the philosophies of Maimon, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and Hermann Cohen. They are profoundly reinterpreted in the twentieth century by thinkers as diverse as Carnap and Heidegger.

Reconstructing the adventures of a particle in philosophy, Daniel Heller-Roazen seeks to show how a grammatical possibility can be an incitement for thought. Yet he also draws a lesson from persistent examples. The philosophers' infinite names all point to one subject: us. “Non-man” or “soul,” “Spirit” or “the unconditioned,” we are beings who name and name ourselves, bearing witness to the fact that we are, in every sense, unnamable.


$32.95 T | £28.00 ISBN: 9781935408888 336 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 b&w illus.


  • No One's Ways is a continuation of the series of works of intellectual history Heller-Roazen has produced for the publisher Zone Books—his sixth to date.... Though each books takes up a different subject, there are clear commonalities between them, as well as a discernible set of long-term research interests involving speech and language, the limits of consciousness, and the writing of philosophical and literary histories themselves. No One's Ways, then, is both a journey and a preamble, a case study ahead of a fuller investigation, to be undertaken by—who knows?

    Los Angeles Review of Books


  • Daniel Heller-Roazen rewrites what we thought we knew about Western Philosophy in an entirely novel way. From Aristotle to Chomsky and beyond, he follows the tracks of a philosophical snark: the 'indefinite' mode, linguistically expressed by the prefixes 'not-' and 'non-' modifying terms instead of sentences or propositions. 'I am not a man' gives way to 'I am a non-man,' opening language and thought to the perspective of a non-subject, never entirely quiet, never entirely heard. This elusive, obstinate non-subject has provoked thinkers to create concepts and words at the limit of human understanding, grasping humaneness as a fundamental indefinition. No One's Ways ends with a call to continue “the task of thinking with languages, and not only in them, and against them.” No one could make that call as powerfully as Daniel Heller-Roazen, because no one today thinks with languages better than he does.

    Virginie Greene

    Harvard University