nLab heteromorphism




The term heteromorphism (Ellerman 2006, Ellerman 2007) refers to concept of a morphism not (necessarily) between two objects in the same category, but between objects in two different categories that are related by a functor, and typically by an adjoint functor, in which case the notion is first made explicit in Pareigis 1970, Β§2.2. Indeed, sets of heteromorphism may be used to characterize adjoint functors. Generally, the set of heteromorphisms is that assigned by the corresponding profunctor to the pair of objects.

The concept is also known as the cograph of a functor. While in traditional category theory literature this is maybe somewhat neglected, it serves for instance as the very definition of adjoint ( ∞ , 1 ) (\infty,1) -functor in the context of quasi-categories in Lurie 2009) (without using the term β€œheteromorphism” there).


Given two categories π’ž\mathcal{C} and π’Ÿ\mathcal{D} and a functor L:π’žβ†’π’ŸL \colon \mathcal{C} \to \mathcal{D}, then for cβˆˆπ’žc\in \mathcal{C} and dβˆˆπ’Ÿd \in \mathcal{D} two objects, the set of heteromorphisms between them is the hom set

Het(c,d)β‰”π’Ÿ(L(c),d). Het(c,d) \coloneqq \mathcal{D}\big(L(c),d\big) \,.

When LL has a right adjoint R:π’Ÿβ†’π’žR \colon \mathcal{D}\to \mathcal{C} then this is of course equivalent to

Het(c,d)β‰…π’ž(c,R(d)). Het(c,d) \cong \mathcal{C}\big(c,R(d)\big) \,.

More generally, for Het:π’ž opΓ—π’Ÿβ†’SetHet \colon \mathcal{C}^{op}\times \mathcal{D}\to Set a profunctor from π’ž\mathcal{C} to π’Ÿ\mathcal{D}, then Het(c,d)Het(c,d) may be called its set of heteromorphisms from cc to dd.

A pair of adjoint functors arise when a Het profunctor is a representable functor on both the left and right. The left adjoint is representing functor on the left:

π’Ÿ(L(c),d)β‰…Het(c,d) \mathcal{D}\big(L(c),d\big) \cong Het(c,d) \,

and symmetrically the right adjoint is the representing functor on the right:

Het(c,d)β‰…π’ž(c,R(d)). Het(c,d) \cong \mathcal{C}\big(c,R(d)\big) \,.

Putting the two representations together gives the usual natural isomorphism characterization of a adjunction but with the het middle term:

π’Ÿ(L(c),d)β‰…Het(c,d)β‰…π’ž(c,R(d)). \mathcal{D}\big(L(c),d\big) \cong Het(c,d) \cong \mathcal{C}\big(c,R(d)\big) \,.


Characterization of adjunctions

Heteromorphisms may be used to express/characterize adjunctions. For more on this see at


Last revised on August 25, 2023 at 08:34:01. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.