Below is an encrypt from John Lock's "An Essay on Human Understanding".

I am not able to understand the meaning of "without" in this context. The problem is that it's object is not mentioned. I viewed such an instance of "without" in Cambridge Dictionary, i.e,

"A long wool coat is a classic no wardrobe should be without."

But, here it is clear that it means "without it" i.e., "without a long wool coat". In other words, the object is removed here as it can be sensed from the context. But, I am not able to grasp what should be considered removed here?

The mind being every day informed, by the senses, of the alteration of those simple ideas, it observes in things without; and taking notice how one comes to an end, and ceases to be, and another begins to exist which was not before; reflecting also on what passes within itself, and observing a constant change of its ideas, sometimes by the impression of outward objects on the senses, and sometimes by the determination of its own choice; and concluding from what it has so constantly observed to have been, that the like changes will for the future be made in the same things, by like agents, and by the like ways, considers in one thing the possibility of having any of its simple ideas changed, and in another the possibility of making that change; and so comes by that idea which we call power. (1690, Chapter XXI, Section 1, pp. 219–220)

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    In passing, your interpretation of the "wool coat" sentence is, I think, not quite right. It is not "missing" an "it" (add it in, and the sentence sounds wrong, although "A long wool coat is a classic: no wardrobe should be without one." and variants would work). Instead, it is simply a slightly archaic word order. The "natural" version might be "No wardrobe should be without a long wool coat", although it is harder to weave the notion "being a classic" into this order ("...the classic long wool coat." doesn't, to me, have the same subtlety as the original).
    – TripeHound
    Nov 21, 2018 at 15:11
  • btw, it should be 'an excerpt from', not 'an encrypt from'. Encryption is what the internet does for cyber-security.
    – Aganju
    Nov 21, 2018 at 20:06
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    There is a reduced relative pronoun '[that]' following 'classic', and it is also the antecedent of the trace that follows 'without'.
    – AmI
    Nov 21, 2018 at 20:13
  • @TripeHound: There's nothing archaic about the word order; it's the same word order as found in, say, "a person I talked to".
    – ruakh
    Nov 21, 2018 at 22:58
  • @ruakh You're right, "archaic" was probably the wrong word to use.
    – TripeHound
    Nov 21, 2018 at 23:25

3 Answers 3


A clue is the later phrase within itself. You might guess from this phrase that the object of without is itself, and that without is the opposite of within.

And indeed, this is correct; here, without takes on its former meaning of outside. From Oxford Dictionaries Online:

  1. literary, archaic Outside. ‘the barbarians without the gates’

So what it means here is things outside the mind.

If you're reading things written in 1690, you have to watch out for words whose meanings have changed. The Cambridge Dictionary seems not to even mention this meaning, which I would guess means that it's not the best dictionary for looking up words from 1690. (In defense of the Cambridge Dictionary, this meaning is virtually never seen in today's English.)

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    Exactly: you beat me to it.
    – Tuffy
    Nov 21, 2018 at 13:20
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    The Beatles play on this dual meaning in their song Within You Without You.
    – hobbs
    Nov 21, 2018 at 15:58
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    One council ward in the City of London retains this use: Farringdon Without, whose name indicates that it was once outside the city wall - as opposed to Farringdon Within. Nov 21, 2018 at 16:54
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    This meaning is still seen occasionally, in the set phrase within and without meaning "inside and outside (of)".
    – 1006a
    Nov 21, 2018 at 19:42
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    "Without" in this sense is literary or archaic in standard British English, but in Scottish English, "outwith" is commonly used with the same meaning.
    – alephzero
    Nov 21, 2018 at 22:24

I think you're looking at an old meaning of "without" here, namely, "outside" or "external". The only online reference I could find at a quick search was in the LEO English-German online dictionary:

without (obsolete, poetic): outside (preposition)

This makes sense, since Locke is talking about the distinction between the mind and the information it receives from the outside world - the "things without" - through the senses.


It's just the opposite of "within": "The mind... observes in things outside itself."

From the OED:

A. adv. Outside, in various senses: opposed to WITHIN adv. Now only literary and somewhat arch[aic].

  1. On the outside or outer surface (of a material thing); externally.

In this sense of the word, it's perfectly reasonable for your wardrobe to be without a long wool coat; what would be ridiculous would be to have your wardrobe within your long wool coat! 😀

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