relation theory

This article treats relationsMathworldPlanetmathPlanetmath from the perspective of combinatorics, in other words, as a subject matter in discrete mathematics, with special attention to finite structuresMathworldPlanetmath and concrete set-theoretic constructions, many of which arise quite naturally in applications. This approach to relation theory, or the theory of relations, is distinguished from, though closely related to, its study from the perspectives of abstract algebra on the one hand and formal logicPlanetmathPlanetmath on the other.

1 Preliminaries

Two definitions of the relation concept are common in the literature. Although it is usually clear in context which definition is being used at a given time, it tends to become less clear as contexts collide, or as discussion moves from one context to another.

The same sort of ambiguity arose in the development of the function concept and it may save some effort to follow the pattern of resolution that worked itself out there.

When we speak of a function f:XY we are thinking of a mathematical object whose articulation requires three pieces of data, specifying the set X, the set Y, and a particular subset of their cartesian product X×Y. So far so good.

Let us write f=(obj1f,obj2f,obj12f) to express what has been said so far.

When it comes to parsing the notation ``f:XY", everyone takes the part ``XY" to specify the type of the function, that is, the pair (obj1f,obj2f), but ``f" is used equivocally to denote both the triple and the subset obj12f that forms one part of it. One way to resolve the ambiguity is to formalize a distinction between a function and its graph, letting graph(f):=obj12f.

Another tactic treats the whole notation ``f:XY" as sufficient denotation for the triple, letting ``f" denote graph(f).

In categorical and computational contexts, at least initially, the type is regarded as an essential attribute or an integral part of the function itself. In other contexts it may be desirable to use a more abstract concept of function, treating a function as a mathematical object that appears in connection with many different types.

Following the pattern of the functionalPlanetmathPlanetmathPlanetmath case, let the notation ``LX×Y" bring to mind a mathematical object that is specified by three pieces of data, the set X, the set Y, and a particular subset of their cartesian product X×Y. As before we have two choices, either let L=(X,Y,graph(L)) or let ``L" denote graph(L) and choose another name for the triple.

2 Definition

It is convenient to begin with the definition of a k-place relation, where k is a positive integer.

Definition. A k-place relation LX1××Xk over the nonempty sets X1,,Xk is a (k+1)-tuple (X1,,Xk,L) where L is a subset of the cartesian product X1××Xk.

3 Remarks

Though usage varies as usage will, there are several bits of optional languagePlanetmathPlanetmath that are frequently useful in discussing relations. The sets X1,,Xk are called the domains of the relation LX1××Xk, with Xj being the jth domain. If all of the Xj are the same set X, then LX1××Xk is more simply described as a k-place relation over X. The set L is called the graph of the relation LX1××Xk, on analogyMathworldPlanetmath with the graph of a function. If the sequencePlanetmathPlanetmath of sets X1,,Xk is constant throughout a given discussion or is otherwise determinate in context, then the relation LX1××Xk is determined by its graph L, making it acceptable to denote the relation by referring to its graph. Other synonyms for the adjective k-place are k-adic and k-ary, all of which leads to the integer k being called the dimensionMathworldPlanetmath, the adicity, or the arity of the relation L.

4 Local incidence properties

A local incidence property (LIP) of a relation L is a property that depends in turn on the properties of special subsets of L that are known as its local flags. The local flags of a relation are defined in the following way:

Let L be a k-place relation LX1××Xk.

Select a relational domain Xj and one of its elements x. Then Lx@j is a subset of L that is referred to as the flag of L with x at j, or the x@j-flag of L, an object that has the following definition:


Any property C of the local flag Lx@jL is said to be a local incidence property of L with respect to the locus x@j.

A k-adic relation LX1××Xk is said to be C-regularPlanetmathPlanetmathPlanetmathPlanetmathPlanetmath at j if and only if every flag of L with x at j has the property C, where x is taken to vary over the theme of the fixed domain Xj.

Expressed in symbols, L is C-regular at j if and only if C(Lx@j) is true for all x in Xj.

5 Regional incidence properties

The definition of a local flag can be broadened from a point x in Xj to a subset M of Xj, arriving at the definition of a regional flag in the following way:

Suppose that LX1××Xk, and choose a subset MXj. Then LM@j is a subset of L that is said to be the flag of L with M at j, or the M@j-flag of L, an object which has the following definition:


6 Numerical incidence properties

A numerical incidence property (NIP) of a relation is a local incidence property that depends on the cardinalities of its local flags.

For example, L is said to be c-regular at j if and only if the cardinality of the local flag Lx@j is c for all x in Xj, or, to write it in symbols, if and only if |Lx@j|=c for all xXj.

In a similar fashion, one can define the NIPs, (<c)-regular at j, (>c)-regular at j, and so on. For ease of reference, a few of these definitions are recorded here:

Lisc-regularatjif and only if|Lx@j|=cfor allxXj.Lis(<c)-regularatjif and only if|Lx@j|<cfor allxXj.Lis(>c)-regularatjif and only if|Lx@j|>cfor allxXj.

7 Species of 2-adic relations

Returning to 2-adic relations, it is useful to describe some familiar classes of objects in terms of their local and numerical incidence properties. Let LS×T be an arbitrary 2-adic relation. The following properties of L can be defined:

ListotalatSif and only ifLis(1)-regularatS.ListotalatTif and only ifLis(1)-regularatT.ListubularatSif and only ifLis(1)-regularatS.ListubularatTif and only ifLis(1)-regularatT.

If LS×T is tubular at S, then L is called a partial functionMathworldPlanetmath or a prefunction from S to T. This is sometimes indicated by giving L an alternate name, say, “p”, and writing L=p:ST.

Just by way of formalizing the definition:

L=p:STif and only ifListubularatS.

If L is a prefunction p:ST that happens to be total at S, then L is called a function from S to T, indicated by writing L=f:ST. To say that a relation LS×T is totally tubular at S is to say that it is 1-regular at S. Thus, we may formalize the following definition:

L=f:STif and only ifLis1-regularatS.

In the case of a function f:ST, one has the following additional definitions:

fissurjectiveif and only iffistotalatT.fisinjectiveif and only iffistubularatT.fisbijectiveif and only iffis1-regularatT.

8 Variations

Because the concept of a relation has been developed quite literally from the beginnings of logic and mathematics, and because it has incorporated contributions from a diversity of thinkers from many different times and intellectual climes, there is a wide varietyMathworldPlanetmath of terminology that the reader may run across in connection with the subject.

One dimension of variation is reflected in the names that are given to k-place relations, for k=1,2,3,, with some writers using the Greek forms, medadic, monadic, dyadic, triadic, k-adic, and other writers using the Latin forms, nullary, unary, binary, ternary, k-ary.

The cardinality of the relational ground, the set of relational domains, may be referred to as the adicity, the arity, or the dimension of the relation. Accordingly, one finds a relation on a finite number of domains described as a polyadic relation or a finitary relation, but others count infinitary relations among the polyadic. If the number of domains is finite, say equal to k, then the relation may be described as a k-adic relation, a k-ary relation, or a k-dimensional relation, respectively.

A more conceptual than nominal variation depends on whether one uses terms like predicateMathworldPlanetmath, relation, and even term to refer to the formal object proper or else to the allied syntactic items that are used to denote them. Compounded with this variation is still another, frequently associated with philosophical differencesPlanetmathPlanetmath over the status in reality accorded formal objects. Among those who speak of numbers, functions, properties, relations, and sets as being real, that is to say, as having objective properties, there are divergences as to whether some things are more real than others, especially whether particulars or properties are equally real or else which one is derivative in relationship to the other. Historically speaking, just about every combinationMathworldPlanetmathPlanetmath of modalities has been used by one school of thought or another, but it suffices here merely to indicate how the options are generated.

9 Bibliography

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Title relation theory
Canonical name RelationTheory
Date of creation 2013-10-08 21:04:11
Last modified on 2013-10-08 21:04:11
Owner Jon Awbrey (15246)
Last modified by Jon Awbrey (15246)
Numerical id 55
Author Jon Awbrey (15246)
Entry type Topic
Classification msc 68R01
Classification msc 68P15
Classification msc 08A02
Classification msc 05C65
Classification msc 05B30
Classification msc 05B20
Classification msc 03E20
Classification msc 03B10
Synonym theory of relations
Related topic RelationComposition2
Related topic RelationConstruction
Related topic RelationReduction
Related topic LogicalMatrix
Related topic TriadicRelation
Related topic SignRelation
Related topic SignRelationalComplex
Related topic SemioticEquivalenceRelation
Defines relation
Defines adicity
Defines arity
Defines domain
Defines graph
Defines type
Defines function
Defines prefunction
Defines partial function
Defines bijectiveMathworldPlanetmathPlanetmath
Defines injectivePlanetmathPlanetmath
Defines surjective