The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim writes that before Adam ate of the tree of knowledge the human being existed with concepts of "truth and falsehood," whereas afterwards their perception was in terms of "good and bad." He defines this as a distinction between "muskalot" and "mefursamot."

Online I found a few translations/definitions for the terms Mefursamot and Muskalot:


  • Matters of intuitive proper behavior
  • Objects and content of our senses, e.g., the sensible image
  • Ethical norms, established by common consent
  • Subjective


  • Matters of ethics that need to be acquired cognitively
  • Eternal concepts or true propositions acquired by the intellect, e.g., the correct concept
  • This knowledge is objective and unchanging (relating to truth and falsehood) and is entirely independent of man.
  • Objective

How do I need to translate, interpret, and define the words muskalot and mefursamot to a Jewish mindset? How are they connected to these two levels of knowledge? And what part did they played in the change from one level to another?


1 Answer 1


These terms, found in ibn Tibbon's translation of the second chapter of the Guide of the Perplexed, are specialized words used in Aristotelian philosophy, so they carry a lot of meaning that can't easily be summarized. Reading Aristotle or Aristotle's Arabic commentators would be the best way to learn about them.

Mefursamot is ibn Tibbon's Hebrew translation of mashhurat (singular: mashhur), which is the Arabic translation of the Greek word endoxa.

Muskalot is ibn Tibbon's translation of the Arabic al-umur al-ma'qula (singular: ma'qul), which is a translation of the Greek word noumena. Muskalot are often called 'intelligibles' in English.

In general, I guess I would hesitatingly say that mefursamot are vague but emotionally charged notions, picked-up unconsciously, and affecting our attraction to, or repulsion from, various things we encounter in life. Muskalot are eternal truths that can only be perceived by a well-trained mind engaged in the highest form of pure contemplation.

An example of a mefursam would be a disgust for cannibalism. An example of a muskal would be God.

  • A tweak, if you like it, to your second-to-last paragraph: "Ideas that are mefursamot would include natural moral laws that are not logically self-evident, but universal. Ideas that are muskalot are only those derivable from first principles." Not necessarily mefursam because of environment; they could be well-known because we're built that way -- since the fruit. Oct 28, 2015 at 17:33
  • @Micha Berger, I think you should expand your comment and post it as an answer. I guess, for me personally, the emphasis is on what faculty of the self apprehends the notion/idea. For mefursamot it is emotional (al-Harizi in his much easier/less accurate translation gives 'murgashot'). For muskalot it is the pure rational intellect.
    – paquda
    Oct 28, 2015 at 18:00
  • I would agree. I thought your wording over-emphasized societal environment as a source of emotion and natural morality. I don't have much else to say, so expanding is unlikely. Oct 28, 2015 at 18:16
  • Okay. I will try to take out the environmental bit. I don't have a source for it, it was my own assumption.
    – paquda
    Oct 28, 2015 at 18:19
  • just to clarify though, do you think that mefursamot are the same throughout the world?
    – paquda
    Oct 28, 2015 at 18:22

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