A *proper class* is a set that is too big to be a set. Exactly what this means depends on the foundations of mathematics, but something must be said about it to study large categories.

There are several ways to deal with this and define a proper class.

A **proper class** is a large discrete category. But since a large category is usually defined as having a proper class of objects, this just moves the bubble under the wallpaper to ‘large category’ and something must be applied there.

A **proper class** is a collection that can be put in bijection with the class of all ordinals, $Ord$. But this requires the global axiom of choice to be correct.

A **proper class** is a class that is not a set. So now we have to define ‘class’.

A **proper class** is a class whose cardinality is not the cardinal number of any set. This is a version of the previous definition not violating the principle of equivalence; however, in some foundations these are actually equivalent (using the axiom of replacement).

A **class** is a collection of sets. Here the bubble is moved to ‘collection’, but we will be able to pop that bubble below. Also we might want to allow the members of a proper class to be other than sets (such as structured sets); certainly it is true, however, that a **pure class** is a collection of pure sets.

A **class** is a formula in the language of set theory for a truth value, equipped with a specified free variable for a set. This is a formalisation of the previous definition, but it must be interpreted metamathematically: a **formula for a class** in a given context $\Gamma$ is a formula for a truth value in the extension of $\Gamma$ by one more free variable for a set.

A **class** may even be an undefined concept; the real definition is to define a **set** as a class that is itself a member of some class. With appropriate axioms, this is equivalent to the previous definition (and conservative over set theory without classes), but it's also possible to apply stronger axioms here; this choice is the difference between $BNG$ and $MK$ as extensions of ZFC.

A **class** is a subset of a Grothendieck universe $U$, while a (small) **set** is merely an element of $U$. This gives a relative notion, depending on $U$. As stated here, we get a concept of class like that of the strong theory $MK$; to be more like $BNG$ (and therefore conservative over set theory without an axiom of universes) we should define a **class** to be a subset of $U$ that is definable in the language of set theory.

A **large category** is a category whose class of morphisms is a proper class. It is sufficient that the class of objects be a proper class, which is also necessary if the category is locally small.

Category theorists care about proper classes because many examples of categories in practice (such as Set, to begin with!) are large.

The category of classes is closed under all large colimits and small limits. See the linked article for more information and precise definitions.

Just as an elementary topos is an axiomatization of basic properties of the category Set, a category with class structure is an axiomatization of basic properties of the category $Class$. See also algebraic set theory.

A paper detailing one approach to the technical side of how classes appear in category theory (namely using Grothendieck universes) is

- Paul Blain Levy,
*Formulating Categorical Concepts using Classes*(arXiv:1801.08528)

Last revised on December 12, 2020 at 15:42:58. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.