nLab functional




This is about functionals in the sense of higher-order logic, which is the original sense and which has only that name. For functionals in the sense of functional analysis, see linear functional; for the relation between these, see under Examples below. For functionals on infinite-dimensional manifolds, see at nonlinear functional.


In a type theory with function types, given a type XX, a functional of base type XX is a term of type X X XX^{X^X} aka (XX)X(X \to X) \to X. This should be distinguished from (on the one hand) an operator, which is a term of type (X X) X X(X^X)^{X^X} aka (XX)(XX)(X \to X) \to (X \to X), and (on the other hand) a function, which (in this context) is a term of type X XX^X aka XXX \to X.

More generally, any term whose type has the form A B CA^{B^C} aka (CB)A(C \to B) \to A may be called a functional, although usually not if any of these types is very trivial (since any type has this form, up to equivalence, if B,C1B,C \coloneqq 1).

Although one typically interprets type theory within set theory so that operations between types become functions, one may also use partial functions, which is necessary for many of the examples below.

A functional could also be interpreted within category theory as a simplicial 2-morphism in the 2-category of sets.


In variational calculus one studies functions on spaces of sections of jet bundles or other mapping spaces. The notion of nonlinear functional is an abstraction of this. For example, such functionals appear in physics as action functionals. See covariant phase space and path integral for other functionals in physics.

If we interpret XX as the real line, then X XX^X consists of real-valued maps of a real variable, which form a vector space. The linear maps from X XX^X to XX are the original linear functionals. In functional analysis, we now replace X XX^X with an arbitrary topological vector space VV (originally but no longer necessarily taken to be a subspace? of X XX^X) and consider linear maps from VV to XX instead; so these linear functionals are actually unstructured operations in a type-theoretic sense.

Last revised on January 10, 2020 at 15:57:06. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.