Protocategories

Protocategories

Idea

A protocategory is a way to present a category that makes formal the idea that a single datum (a “protomorphism”) can represent many different morphisms with different sources and targets. For instance, in material set theory, a given set of ordered pairs can represent functions with many different codomains.

As compared to the definition of category with one set of objects and one set of morphisms, a protocategory removes the requirement that each morphism have a unique source and target. As compared to the definition of category with separate hom-sets $\hom(A,B)$ for each pair of objects, a protocategory requires all these homsets to be (not necessarily disjoint) subsets of one set of all “protomorphisms”.

It is important to recognize, however, that unlike those two definitions of category, a protocategory is not a definition of a category. It retains information about “which morphisms in distinct hom-sets are ‘equal’”, which is not relevant category-theoretic information: in a true category it is never ‘meaningful’ to compare two morphisms for equality unless one already knows for other reasons that their domains and codomains coincide. A protocategory is rather a way of presenting a category, analogous to a group presentation, formalizing the fact that in some cases morphisms in different hom-sets can be “equal” until we “forget about that fact” in a structured way.

Definition

A protocategory consists of:

• Two collections of objects and protomorphisms
• A ternary “source-target relation” relating two objects and one protomorphism, written “$f : A\to B$” and read as “$f$ represents a morphism from $A$ to $B$
• A ternary “composition predicate” relating three protomorphisms, written “$h = g \circ f$” and read as “$h$ is a possible composite of $f$ and $g$”.

satisfying the axioms

• If $f:A\to B$ and $g:B\to C$, there is exactly one $h$ satisfying $h:A\to C$ and $h = g\circ f$.
• If we define the set of morphisms $\hom(A,B)$ to be the set of protomorphisms $f$ satisfying $f:A\to B$, then the composition operation given by the previous axiom results in a category (i.e. it is associative and has identities).

Examples

• Let the objects be the sets in material set theory (such as ZFC), and let the protomorphisms be sets $f$ of ordered pairs such that for any $x$ there is at most one $y$ such that $(x,y)\in f$. The domain of such an $f$ is the set of all $x$ such that there is such a $y$, and its range is the set of all $y$ such that there exists an $x$ with $(x,y)\in f$. We say $f:A\to B$ if $A$ is the domain of $f$ and $B$ is a superset of the range of $f$. With a suitable definition of composition, this yields a protocategory that generates the category Set.

• More generally, if we take the protomorphisms to be all sets of ordered pairs, and $f:A\to B$ to mean that $A$ is a superset of the domain of $f$ in addition to $B$ being a superset of the codomain of $f$, then we get a protocategory that generates the category Rel.

• Let the objects be groups, let the protomorphisms be functions, and say that $f:G\to H$ when $f$ is a function between the underlying sets of $G$ and $H$ that is a group homomorphism. This protocategory generates the category Grp.

• Any category can be presented by a protocategory in a trivial way, by taking the protomorphisms to be the disjoint union of all the sets of morphisms (i.e. the set $C_1$ in the one-set-of-morphisms definition of category), with the source-target relation being simply a function from protomorphisms to pairs of objects.

Remark

It may seem that, at least in a material set theory, we should be able to modify the previous example by taking a non-disjoint union of the sets of morphisms (assuming given a category in the many-sets-of-morphisms definition). However, this is not true, because the composition predicate in a protocategory makes no reference to objects. For example, consider the following category:

• objects $0,1,2,0',1',2'$
• $\hom(0,1) = \hom(0',1') = \{f\}$, $\hom(1,2)=\hom(1',2')=\{g\}$, $\hom(0,2)=\hom(0',2')=\{h,h'\}$, no other nonidentity morphisms, all identity morphisms distinct
• $g\circ_{0,1,2} f = h$ and $g\circ_{0',1',2'} f = h'$.

Then if we take unions of homsets we have $g\circ f = h$ and also $g\circ f = h'$, but then the protocategory composition axiom fails: we have $f:0\to 1$ and $g:1\to 2$, but there does not exist a unique $k$ such that $k:0\to 2$ and $g \circ f = k$.

References

Last revised on April 16, 2018 at 05:34:17. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.