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Subobject classifier

In category theory, a subobject classifier is a special object Ω of a category; intuitively, the subobjects of an object X correspond to the morphisms from X to Ω.

Table of contents
1 Introductory example
2 Definition
3 Further examples

Introductory example

As an example, the set Ω = {0,1} is a subobject classifier in the category of sets and functions: to every subset U of X we can assign the function from X to Ω that maps precisely the elements of U to 1 (see characteristic function). Every function from X to Ω arises in this fashion from precisely one subset U.


For the general definition, we start with a category C that has a terminal object, which we denote by 1. The object Ω of C is a subobject classifier for C if there exists a morphism 1 -> Ω with the following property:

for each monomorphism j: U -> X there is a unique morphism g: X -> Ω such that the following commutative diagram

          U -> 1
          |    |
          v    v
          X -> Ω

is a pullback diagram - that is, U is the limit of the diagram:

     g: X -> Ω

The morphism g is then called the classifying morphism for the subobject j.

Further examples

Every topos has a subobject classifier.