Is “without” the opposite of “within?”

I’ve seen the famous quote from Hermes Trismegistus:

"As above, so below. As within, so without. As the universe, so the soul."

Is without actually the opposite of within?

For example, these opposites make sense:

On the ground, I have seen the clouds above me.

On an airplane, I have seen the clouds below me.

But, these don’t seem to work.

I struggle to contain the emotions within my heart.

I struggle to contain the emotions without my heart.

Is modern usage of without eclipsing the real meaning, or does this not make sense? In what context would it make sense? Examples and answers would be appreciated.


In modern usage, no. “Without” is no longer used to mean “not inside”; it solely means “in the absence of”.

In historical (or deliberately old-fashioned) usage, yes. Your Hermes Trismegistus quote is an example of this.

If we assume modern usage, your last sentence…

I struggle to contain the emotions without my heart.

…means, “I have difficulty containing emotions when I don’t have a [or don’t use my] heart.” If we were to take it as old-fashioned English… well, it would still seem strange; since the heart is where emotions (metaphorically) come from, what emotions are you containing outside of your heart?

Lastly, it’s worth noting that “without” isn’t the only phrase meaning both “not inside” and “in the absence of”; “outside of” still means both in current usage, hence this joke from Jim Brewer:

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

“Aside from” might also have this kind of double meaning, except that its literal meaning (“next to, beside” rather than “not inside”) is pretty much never used! It only ever means “in the absence of”, or “if we ignore the (possible) existence of”.

Source : Link , Question Author : Pyraminx , Answer Author : Tim Pederick

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