A cosmos is a “good place in which to do category theory,” including both ordinary category theory as well as enriched category theory.

The word is chosen by analogy with topos which can be regarded as “a good place to do set theory,” but there are notable differences between the two situations; a more direct categorification of a topos is, unsurprisingly, a 2-topos. In contrast, cosmoi also include enriched category theory, while toposes do not allow non-cartesian enrichment.

There are a number of different, inequivalent, definitions of “cosmos” in the literature.

Bénabou’s definition

Jean Bénabou‘s original definition (see Street 74, p. 1) was that a cosmos VV is a complete and cocomplete closed symmetric monoidal category. This is an ideal situation for studying categories enriched over VV.

Indexed Bénabou cosmoi

Shulman 2013 introduced an indexed version of Bénabou’s kind of cosmos, appropriate for studying enriched indexed categories over a base. Notably, while Bénabou’s definition is not “elementary” (it involves infinitary limits and colimits), the indexed version is elementary; the infinitary structure is folded into the indexing base category. Bénabou’s cosmoi are in particular indexed cosmoi over Set.

Street’s “fibrational cosmoi”

Ross Street has taken a different tack, defining a “cosmos” to be the collection of (enriched) categories and relevant structure for doing category theory, rather than the “base” category VV over which the enrichment occurs.

In his paper “Elementary cosmoi,” Street defined a (fibrational) cosmos to be a 2-category in which internal fibrations are well-behaved and representable by a structure of “presheaf objects” (later realized to be a special sort of Yoneda structure). Note that while this includes CatCat, it does not include VV-CatCat for non-cartesian VV, since internal fibrations are poorly behaved there. The definition is given in the paper “Cosmoi of internal categories”: a fibrational cosmos is a 2-category KK such that

  • finite limits exist in KK;
  • there is a 2-adjunction P *:KK coop:PP^* : K \leftrightarrows K^{\text{coop}} : P;
  • each object AA admits a discrete fibration from PAPA satisfying two technical properties.

The objects PAPA are the “presheaf objects” that represent fibrations.

Street’s second definition

In his paper “Cauchy characterization of enriched categories,” Street instead defined a cosmos to be a 2-category that “behaves like the 2-category VV-ModMod of enriched categories and profunctors”. The precise definition: a cosmos is a 2-category (or bicategory) such that:

  • Small (weak, or bi-) coproducts exist.

  • Each monad admits a Kleisli construction? (analogous to the exactness of a topos).

  • It is locally small-cocomplete, i.e. its hom-categories have small colimits that are preserved by composition on each side.

  • There exists a small “Cauchy generator”.

These hypotheses imply that it is equivalent to the bicategory of categories and profunctors enriched over some “base” bicategory. (Note the generalization from enrichment over a monoidal category to enrichment over a bicategory.)

Defined in this way, cosmoi are closed under dualization, parametrization and localization, suitably defined.

An infinity-cosmos is a “good place in which to do higher category theory” as axiomatized by Riehl and Verity in their work on the foundations of (,1)(\infty,1)- and (,n)(\infty,n)-category theory.


Apparently there is no written account by Jean Bénabou of his definition of cosmos. One finds it recounted in Street 74, p. 1:

to J. Benabou the word means “bicomplete symmetric monoidal category”, such categories 𝒱\mathcal{V} being rich enough so that the theory of categories enriched in 𝒱\mathcal{V} develops to a large extent just as the theory of ordinary categories.

  • Ross Street, Elementary cosmoi I. Category Seminar. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 1974. (publisher)

  • Ross Street, Cosmoi of internal categories, Transactions of the American Mathematical Society 258.2 (1980): 271-318.

  • Ross Street, Cauchy characterization of enriched categories, Rend. Sem. Mat. Fis. Milano 51 (1981): 217-233. (pdf)

  • Mike Shulman, Enriched indexed categories, TAC 2013

Last revised on July 13, 2018 at 03:53:58. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.