Badiou Contra Grothendieck Functorally. Note Quote.

What makes categories historically remarkable and, in particular, what demonstrates that the categorical change is genuine? On the one hand, Badiou fails to show that category theory is not genuine. But, on the other, it is another thing to say that mathematics itself does change, and that the ‘Platonic’ a priori in Badiou’s endeavour is insufficient, which could be demonstrated empirically.

Yet the empirical does not need to stand only in a way opposed to mathematics. Rather, it relates to results that stemmed from and would have been impossible to comprehend without the use of categories. It is only through experience that we are taught the meaning and use of categories. An experience obviously absent from Badiou’s habituation in mathematics.

To contrast, Grothendieck opened up a new regime of algebraic geometry by generalising the notion of a space first scheme-theoretically (with sheaves) and then in terms of groupoids and higher categories. Topos theory became synonymous to the study of categories that would satisfy the so called Giraud’s axioms based on Grothendieck’s geometric machinery. By utilising such tools, Pierre Deligne was able to prove the so called Weil conjectures, mod-p analogues of the famous Riemann hypothesis.

These conjectures – anticipated already by Gauss – concern the so called local ζ-functions that derive from counting the number of points of an algebraic variety over a finite field, an algebraic structure similar to that of for example rational Q or real numbers R but with only a finite number of elements. By representing algebraic varieties in polynomial terms, it is possible to analyse geometric structures analogous to Riemann hypothesis but over finite fields Z/pZ (the whole numbers modulo p). Such ‘discrete’ varieties had previously been excluded from topological and geometric inquiry, while it now occurred that geometry was no longer overshadowed by a need to decide between ‘discrete’ and ‘continuous’ modalities of the subject (that Badiou still separates).

Along with the continuous ones, also discrete variates could then be studied based on Betti numbers, and similarly as what Cohen’s argument made manifest in set-theory, there seemed to occur ‘deeper’, topological precursors that had remained invisible under the classical formalism. In particular, the so called étale-cohomology allowed topological concepts (e.g., neighbourhood) to be studied in the context of algebraic geometry whose classical, Zariski-description was too rigid to allow a meaningful interpretation. Introducing such concepts on the basis of Jean-Pierre Serre’s suggestion, Alexander Grothendieck did revolutionarize the field of geometry, and Pierre Deligne’s proof of the Weil-conjenctures, not to mention Wiles’ work on Fermat’s last theorem that subsequentely followed.

Grothendieck’s crucial insight drew on his observation that if morphisms of varieties were considered by their ‘adjoint’ field of functions, it was possible to consider geometric morphisms as equivalent to algebraic ones. The algebraic category was restrictive, however, because field-morphisms are always monomorphisms which makes geometric morphisms: to generalize the notion of a neighbourhood to algebraic category he needed to embed algebraic fields into a larger category of rings. While a traditional Kuratowski covering space is locally ‘split’ – as mathematicians call it – the same was not true for the dual category of fields. In other words, the category of fields did not have an operator analogous to pull-backs (fibre products) unless considered as being embedded within rings from which pull-backs have a co-dual expressed by the tensor operator ⊗. Grothendieck thus realized he could replace ‘incorporeal’ or contained neighborhoods U ֒→ X by a more relational description: as maps U → X that are not necessarily monic, but which correspond to ring-morphisms instead.

Topos theory applies similar insight but not in the context of only specific varieties but for the entire theory of sets instead. Ultimately, Lawvere and Tierney realized the importance of these ideas to the concept of classification and truth in general. Classification of elements between two sets comes down to a question: does this element belong to a given set or not? In category of S ets this question calls for a binary answer: true or false. But not in a general topos in which the composition of the subobject-classifier is more geometric.

Indeed, Lawvere and Tierney then considered this characteristc map ‘either/or’ as a categorical relationship instead without referring to its ‘contents’. It was the structural form of this morphism (which they called ‘true’) and as contrasted with other relationships that marked the beginning of geometric logic. They thus rephrased the binary complete Heyting algebra of classical truth with the categorical version Ω defined as an object, which satisfies a specific pull-back condition. The crux of topos theory was then the so called Freyd–Mitchell embedding theorem which effectively guaranteed the explicit set of elementary axioms so as to formalize topos theory. The Freyd–Mitchell embedding theorem says that every abelian category is a full subcategory of a category of modules over some ring R and that the embedding is an exact functor. It is easy to see that not every abelian category is equivalent to RMod for some ring R. The reason is that RMod has all small limits and colimits. But for instance the category of finitely generated R-modules is an abelian category but lacks these properties.

But to understand its significance as a link between geometry and language, it is useful to see how the characteristic map (either/or) behaves in set theory. In particular, by expressing truth in this way, it became possible to reduce Axiom of Comprehension, which states that any suitable formal condition λ gives rise to a peculiar set {x ∈ λ}, to a rather elementary statement regarding adjoint functors.

At the same time, many mathematical structures became expressible not only as general topoi but in terms of a more specific class of Grothendieck-topoi. There, too, the ‘way of doing mathematics’ is different in the sense that the object-classifier is categorically defined and there is no empty set (initial object) but mathematics starts from the terminal object 1 instead. However, there is a material way to express the ‘difference’ such topoi make in terms of set theory: for every such a topos there is a sheaf-form enabling it to be expressed as a category of sheaves S etsC for a category C with a specific Grothendieck-topology.

Badiou’s Materiality as Incorporeal Ontology. Note Quote.


Badiou criticises the proper form of intuition associated with multiplicities such as space and time. However, his own ’intuitions’ are constrained by set theory. His intuition is therefore as ‘transitory’ as is the ontology in terms of which it is expressed. Following this constrained line of reasoning, however, let me now discuss how Badiou encounters the question of ‘atoms’ and materiality: in terms of the so called ‘atomic’ T-sets.

If topos theory designates the subobject-classifier Ω relationally, the external, set-theoretic T-form reduces the classificatory question again into the incorporeal framework. There is a set-theoretical, explicit order-structure (T,<) contra the more abstract relation 1 → Ω pertinent to categorical topos theory. Atoms then appear in terms of this operator <: the ‘transcendental grading’ that provides the ‘unity through which all the manifold given in an intuition is united in a concept of the object’.

Formally, in terms of an external Heyting algebra this comes down to an entity (A,Id) where A is a set and Id : A → T is a function satisfying specific conditions.

Equaliser: First, there is an ‘equaliser’ to which Badiou refers as the ‘identity’ Id : A × A → T satisfies two conditions:

1) symmetry: Id(x, y) = Id(y, x) and
2) transitivity: Id(x, y) ∧ Id(y, z) ≤ Id(x, z).

They guarantee that the resulting ‘quasi-object’ is objective in the sense of being distinguished from the gaze of the ‘subject’: ‘the differences in degree of appearance are not prescribed by the exteriority of the gaze’.

This analogous ‘identity’-function actually relates to the structural equalization-procedure as appears in category theory. Identities can be structurally understood as equivalence-relations. Given two arrows X ⇒ Y , an equaliser (which always exists in a topos, given the existence of the subobject classifier Ω) is an object Z → X such that both induced maps Z → Y are the same. Given a topos-theoretic object X and U, pairs of elements of X over U can be compared or ‘equivalized’ by a morphism XU × XUeq ΩU structurally ‘internalising’ the synthetic notion of ‘equality’ between two U-elements. Now it is possible to formulate the cumbersome notion of the ‘atom of appearing’.

An atom is a function a : A → T defined on a T -set (A, Id) so that
(A1) a(x) ∧ Id(x, y) ≤ a(y) and
(A2) a(x) ∧ a(y) ≤ Id(x, y).
As expressed in Badiou’s own vocabulary, an atom can be defined as an ‘object-component which, intuitively, has at most one element in the following sense: if there is an element of A about which it can be said that it belongs absolutely to the component, then there is only one. This means that every other element that belongs to the component absolutely is identical, within appearing, to the first’. These two properties in the definition of an atom is highly motivated by the theory of T-sets (or Ω-sets in the standard terminology of topological logic). A map A → T satisfying the first inequality is usually thought as a ‘subobject’ of A, or formally a T-subset of A. The idea is that, given a T-subset B ⊂ A, we can consider the function
IdB(x) := a(x) = Σ{Id(x,y) | y ∈ B}
and it is easy to verify that the first condition is satisfied. In the opposite direction, for a map a satisfying the first condition, the subset
B = {x | a(x) = Ex := Id(x, x)}
is clearly a T-subset of A.
The second condition states that the subobject a : A → T is a singleton. This concept stems from the topos-theoretic internalization of the singleton-function {·} : a → {a} which determines a particular class of T-subsets of A that correspond to the atomic T-subsets. For example, in the case of an ordinary set S and an element s ∈ S the singleton {s} ⊂ S is a particular, atomic type of subset of S.
The question of ‘elements’ incorporated by an object can thus be expressed externally in Badiou’s local theory but ‘internally’ in any elementary topos. For the same reason, there are two ways for an element to be ‘atomic’: in the first sense an ‘element depends solely on the pure (mathematical) thinking of the multiple’, whereas the second sense relates it ‘to its transcendental indexing’. In topos theory, the distinction is slightly more cumbersome. Badiou still requires a further definition in order to state the ‘postulate of materialism’.
An atom a : A → T is real if if there exists an element x ∈ T so that a(y) = Id(x,y) ∀ y ∈ A.
This definition gives rise to the postulate inherent to Badiou’s understanding of ‘democratic materialism’.
Postulate of Materialism: In a T-set (A,Id), every atom of appearance is real.
What the postulate designates is that there really needs to exist s ∈ A for every suitable subset that structurally (read categorically) appears to serve same relations as the singleton {s}. In other words, what ‘appears’ materially, according to the postulate, has to ‘be’ in the set-theoretic, incorporeal sense of ‘ontology’. Topos theoretically this formulation relates to the so called axiom of support generators (SG), which states that the terminal object 1 of the underlying topos is a generator. This means that the so called global elements, elements of the form 1 → X, are enough to determine any particular object X.
Thus, it is this specific condition (support generators) that is assumed by Badiou’s notion of the ‘unity’ or ‘constitution’ of ‘objects’. In particular this makes him cross the line – the one that Kant drew when he asked Quid juris? or ’Haven’t you crossed the limit?’ as Badiou translates.
But even without assuming the postulate itself, that is, when considering a weaker category of T-sets not required to fulfill the postulate of atomism, the category of quasi-T -sets has a functor taking any quasi-T-set A into the corresponding quasi-T-set of singletons SA by x → {x}, where SA ⊂ PA and PA is the quasi-T-set of all quasi-T-subsets, that is, all maps T → A satisfying the first one of the two conditions of an atom designated by Badiou. It can then be shown that, in fact, SA itself is a sheaf whose all atoms are ‘real’ and which then is a proper T-set satisfying the ‘postulate of materialism’. In fact, the category of T-Sets is equivalent to the category of T-sheaves Shvs(T, J). In the language of T-sets, the ‘postulate of materialism’ thus comes down to designating an equality between A and its completed set of singletons SA.

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