nLab double negation

Double negation


Topos Theory

topos theory



Internal Logic

Topos morphisms

Extra stuff, structure, properties

Cohomology and homotopy

In higher category theory


Double negation


In logic, double negation is the operation that takes PP to ¬¬P\neg{\neg{P}}, where ¬\neg is negation. In other words, double negation is the composite of negation with itself. This is a closure operator/modality and as such a special case of a continuation monad.

The double negation translation says that a proposition PP is provable in classical logic precisely if its double negation ¬¬P\not \not P is provable in constructive logic.

The double negation topology closes morphisms under double negation (def. below), and its category of sheaves forms a boolean topos (prop. below). This notably serves to capture the forcing of set theory in terms of topos theory (classifying topoi), see also remark below.

In logic

In classical logic, the double negation of any truth value or proposition is itself. More abstractly, double negation is the identity function on any boolean algebra.

In intuitionistic logic, double negation is weaker than the identity. That is, we have P¬¬PP \Rightarrow \neg{\neg{P}} but not conversely. In paraconsistent logic, it is the other way around. More abstractly, this holds in any Heyting algebra (intuitionistic) or its dual (paraconsistent).

In linear logic, double negation is the identity again, although linear logic also has notions of intuitionistic negation and paraconsistent negation which act as above.

In locale theory

Even in classical mathematics, a frame is a Heyting algebra but not a boolean algebra. Accordingly, double negation is usually not the identity on a frame. However, the operation of double negation is a nucleus on any frame.

Thus, every locale LL has a sublocale given by that nucleus, called the double negation sublocale and denoted L ¬¬L_{\neg\neg}. This sublocale is dense, and in fact it is the smallest dense sublocale of LL, the intersection of all dense sublocales.

In classical mathematics, if LL is a spatial locale, then we have L=L ¬¬L = L_{\neg\neg} if and only if LL is the discrete locale on some set SS of points. In constructive mathematics, the same holds except that SS must also have decidable equality.


Let 𝒪 X\mathcal{O}_X be the sheaf of continuous (or smooth, or holomorphic, or regular?) functions on a topological space (or smooth manifold, or complex manifold, or reduced scheme) XX. Then the pushforward of the pullback of 𝒪 X\mathcal{O}_X to the smallest dense sublocale of XX is the sheaf of meromorphic functions on XX (i.e. sections over an open subset UU are given by sections of 𝒪 X\mathcal{O}_X defined on some dense open subset VUV \subseteq U).

In topos theory

The notion of double negation sublocale may be categorified from locales to toposes.

If EE is a topos with subobject classifier Ω\Omega, there is a negation operator ¬:ΩΩ\neg \colon \Omega \to \Omega, defined by virtue of the fact that Ω\Omega is an internal Heyting algebra.



(double negation topology)

The double negation morphism

¬¬:ΩΩ \not \not \colon \Omega \to \Omega

constitutes a Lawvere-Tierney topology on \mathcal{E}.

This is called the double negation topology.


The topology axioms can be formulated in purely equational form, i.e., as equations between operations of the form Ω nΩ\Omega^n \to \Omega. By the Yoneda lemma, it suffices to verify the corresponding equations between transformations Hom(,Ω) nHom(,Ω)Hom(-, \Omega)^n \to Hom(-, \Omega), which boils the problem down to checking the equations for ordinary Heyting algebras in SetSet. For ordinary Heyting algebras, proofs may be found here.


  • In case of Set Set^{\rightrightarrows}, the presheaf topos of directed graphs, the action of ¬¬\neg\neg as a closure operator on subgraphs XYX\subseteq Y amounts to adding to the edge set of XX all the edges in YY between vertices that are in XX. The patient reader will find further details on the ¬¬\neg\neg-topology for this elementary example spelled out at length at Quiv.



The sheaf topos ¬¬\mathcal{E}_{\not \not} \hookrightarrow \mathcal{E} corresponding to the double negation topology (def. ) is a Boolean topos.

This appears for sheaf toposes \mathcal{E} as (MacLane-Moerdijk, theorem VI 3), and in the general case (elementary toposes) as a special case of (Johnstone, Lemma A4.5.21).

The following says that ¬¬\mathcal{E}_{\not \not} is the smallest subtopos j\mathcal{E}_j such that \emptyset is a jj-sheaf. This property looks innocent but when thinking of \mathcal{E} as a generalized (topological) space becomes, as in the case of locales, rather remarkable.


¬¬\mathcal{E}_{\not \not} \hookrightarrow \mathcal{E} is the smallest dense subtopos.

(Johnstone 2002, below Corollary A4.5.20, or Johnstone 1977, p.140)


¬¬\not \not is the smallest topology jj on \mathcal{E} such that the canonical mono (,):2=11Ω(\top,\bot):2=1\coprod 1\rightarrowtail\Omega is jj-dense.

This is theorem 1.4. in Caramello (2009).


¬¬\neg\neg is the smallest topology jj on \mathcal{E} such that all monomorphisms of the form A¬AEA\vee\neg A\rightarrowtail E for subobjects AEA\rightarrowtail E in \mathcal{E} are jj-dense.

This appears as proposition 6.2 in Caramello (2012a).

From the above we have that ¬¬\mathcal{E}_{\not\not} is a Boolean and dense subtopos. In fact, even better, we have


¬¬\not\not is the unique topology jj such that (1) jj is dense, i.e. j(0)=0j(0)=0, and (2) the sheaf topos j\mathcal{E}_j is Boolean.


It remains to show that (1) and (2) imply that j=¬¬j=\not\not. First note that the dense monos corresponding to jj are classified by the subobject classifier Ω j\Omega_j of j\mathcal{E}_j. Since (2) implies that Ω j\Omega_j is an internal Boolean algebra, it follows that the dense subobjects of any object XX form a Boolean algebra.

This Boolean algebra is a reflective sub-poset of the Heyting algebra of all subobjects of XX, whose reflector is lex, i.e. preserves finite meets. Thus, it will suffice to show that if BB is a Boolean algebra that is a lex-reflective sub-poset of a Heyting algebra HH and if 0B0\in B, then B={U|U=¬¬U}B = \{ U | U = \neg\neg U \}.

To show this, first note that the Boolean negation in BB is the restriction of the Heyting negation in HH. Thus, Booleanness of BB implies U=¬¬UU=\neg\neg U for all UBU\in B. Thus, it remains to show that if U=¬¬UU=\neg\neg U then UBU\in B. But since 0B0\in B and BB is an exponential ideal, by the definition ¬U=(U0)\neg U = (U\Rightarrow 0) it follows that ¬¬UB\neg\neg U\in B for any UU. Thus, if U=¬¬UU=\neg\neg U then UBU\in B as well.

Another, slightly more general, way to state this is is the following (cf. Blass-Scedrov 1983, p.19, Caramello 2012, p.9):


Let \mathcal{E} be a topos. A topology jj satisfies j¬¬j\le\neg\neg, i.e. jj is dense, iff ( j) ¬¬= ¬¬(\mathcal{E}_j)_{\not\not}=\mathcal{E}_{\not\not}.

Notice that, though these results prevent a topos from having more than one dense Boolean subtopos, nothing prevents a topos from having more than one Boolean subtopos e.g. the Sierpinski topos Set Set^{\to} has two non trivial ones that complement each other in the lattice of subtoposes. This example, incidentally, also shows that in the above proposition just ( j) ¬¬ ¬¬(\mathcal{E}_j)_{\neg\neg}\cong\mathcal{E}_{\neg\neg} wouldn’t do.

As the smallest dense subtopos, ¬¬\mathcal{E}_{\not\not} becomes important for Lawvere’s calculus of Aufhebung:


The smallest essential subtopos j\mathcal{E}_j that is dense (in other words the Aufhebung of 010 \dashv 1) has the property that ¬¬ j\mathcal{E}_{\neg\neg}\le \mathcal{E}_j and concides with ¬¬\mathcal{E}_{\neg\neg} in case the latter is an essential subtopos: j= ¬¬\mathcal{E}_j=\mathcal{E}_{\neg\neg} (cf. Lawvere-Menni 2015).1

For further discussion of this relation see at dense subtopos.

The double negation topology is closely related to the class of skeletal geometric morphims i.e. f:f:\mathcal{F}\to\mathcal {E} that restrict to a geometric morphism ¬¬ ¬¬\mathcal{F}_{\neg\neg}\to\mathcal{E}_{\neg\neg} e.g. skeletal geometric morphisms are the 1-cells in 2-category of toposes in which Boolean toposes are co-reflective (cf. Johnstone (2002, p.1008)).

The next propositions consider the important special case of ¬¬\neg\neg on presheaf toposes:


Let CC be a small category admitting a right calculus of fractions with respect to the set Σ\Sigma of all morphisms and let GG be the free groupoid generated by CC, i.e. GCΣ 1G\cong C\Sigma^{-1}. Then the following holds:

Sh ¬¬(Set C op)Set G op. Sh_{\neg\neg}(Set^{C^{op}})\cong Set^{G^{op}}\quad .

This appears as ex.5.2 in Johnstone (1977, p.162). It applies e.g. to CC a commutative monoid.


For every presheaf topos [C op,Set][C^{op}, Set] the double negation topology coincides with the dense topology.

This appears as MacLaneMoerdijk, corollary VI 5.


Let CC be a poset. Then the double negation sheaf topos Sh ¬¬(C)[C op,Set] Sh_{\not \not}(C) \hookrightarrow [C^{op}, Set] satisfies the axiom of choice.

This appears as MacLaneMoerdijk, corollary VI 9.


(relation to forcing)

Essentially because of prop. , double-negation sheaves on posets are the basic context for forcing in set theory (since set theorists generally want the axiom of choice to be preserved in forcing models). For such a use of double negation in the so called Cohen topos see at continuum hypothesis.


  • A topos \mathcal{E} such that ¬¬\mathcal{E}_{\neg\neg} is an open subtopos is called \bot-scattered. They play a role in the modeling of provability logic (cf. scattered topos).

  • The booleanization ¬¬\mathcal{E}_{\neg\neg} of a topos \mathcal{E} has a close relative: the De Morganization m\mathcal{E}_m.

In higher topos theory

Classically the double negation modality is equivalent to the n-truncation modality for n=1n = -1 (the bracket type). In general, it's still true that double negation takes any type (object in the higher topos) to a (1)(-1)-type, but the bracket type A 1{\|A\|_{-1}} only entails the double negation ¬(¬A)\neg(\neg{A}):

there is a canonical function

A 1¬(¬A) {\|A\|_{-1}} \longrightarrow \neg(\neg{A})

and this is a 1-epimorphism precisely if the law of excluded middle holds.

\phantom{-}symbol\phantom{-}\phantom{-}in logic\phantom{-}
A\phantom{A}\inA\phantom{A}element relation
A\phantom{A}:\,:A\phantom{A}typing relation
A\phantom{A}\vdashA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}entailment / sequentA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}\topA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}true / topA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}\botA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}false / bottomA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}\LeftrightarrowA\phantom{A}logical equivalence
A\phantom{A}\neqA\phantom{A}negation of equality / apartnessA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}\notinA\phantom{A}negation of element relation A\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}¬¬\not \notA\phantom{A}negation of negationA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}\existsA\phantom{A}existential quantificationA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}\forallA\phantom{A}universal quantificationA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}\wedgeA\phantom{A}logical conjunction
A\phantom{A}\veeA\phantom{A}logical disjunction
symbolin type theory (propositions as types)
A\phantom{A}\toA\phantom{A}function type (implication)
A\phantom{A}×\timesA\phantom{A}product type (conjunction)
A\phantom{A}++A\phantom{A}sum type (disjunction)
A\phantom{A}00A\phantom{A}empty type (false)
A\phantom{A}11A\phantom{A}unit type (true)
A\phantom{A}==A\phantom{A}identity type (equality)
A\phantom{A}\simeqA\phantom{A}equivalence of types (logical equivalence)
A\phantom{A}\sumA\phantom{A}dependent sum type (existential quantifier)
A\phantom{A}\prodA\phantom{A}dependent product type (universal quantifier)
symbolin linear logic
A\phantom{A}\multimapA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}linear implicationA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}\otimesA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}multiplicative conjunctionA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}\oplusA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}additive disjunctionA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}&\&A\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}additive conjunctionA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}\invampA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}multiplicative disjunctionA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}!\;!A\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}exponential conjunctionA\phantom{A}


Informal exposition of double negation with an eye towards physics is in

In topos theory:

In homotopy type theory:

Discussion in relation to cohesion and the sharp modality is in

More detailed discussion of this is in

  • William Lawvere, Matías Menni, Internal choice holds in the discrete part of any cohesive topos satisfying stable connected codiscreteness, TAC 30 no. 26 (2015) pp.909-932. (abstract)

  • Matías Menni, The unity and identity of opposites between decidable objects and double-negation sheaves , JSL to appear. (preprint)

Other useful references include

  • Andreas Blass, Andrej Scedrov, Boolean Classifying Topoi , JPAA 28 (1983) pp.15-30.

  • Olivia Caramello, De Morgan classifying toposes , Advances in Mathematics 222 no.6 (2009) pp.2117-2144. (arXiv:0808.1519)

  • Olivia Caramello, Universal models and definability , Math. Proc. Cam. Phil. Soc. (2012) pp.279-302. (arXiv:0906.3061)

  • Olivia Caramello, Topologies for intermediate logics , arXiv:1205.2547 (2012). (abstract)

  • D. S. Mcnab, Some applications of double-negation sheafification , Proc. Edinburgh Math. Soc. 20 (1977) pp.279-285.

  1. Lawvere (1991) says around p.8: “The base in fact seems in examples to be determined by the given category of Being itself, either as the latter’s QD reflection with the extra localness condition supplying the right adjoint pure Becoming inclusion, or else (for example simplicial sets) as the double-negation sheaves with the extra essentialness condition supplying the left adjoint inclusion (in the latter case it is in Hegelian fashion always the smallest level for which both 0,1 are sheaves)“.

Last revised on November 9, 2023 at 01:44:33. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.