Elementary remarks on units in monoidal categories

Joachim Kock*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


We explore an alternative definition of unit in a monoidal category originally due to Saavedra: a Saavedra unit is a cancellable idempotent (in a 1-categorical sense). This notion is more economical than the usual notion in terms of left-right constraints, and is motivated by higher category theory. To start, we describe the semi-monoidal category of all possible unit structures on a given semi-monoidal category and observe that it is contractible (if non-empty). Then we prove that the two notions of units are equivalent in a strong functorial sense. Next, it is shown that the unit compatibility condition for a (strong) monoidal functor is precisely the condition for the functor to lift to the categories of units, and it is explained how the notion of Saavedra unit naturally leads to the equivalent non-algebraic notion of fair monoidal category, where the contractible multitude of units is considered as a whole instead of choosing one unit. To finish, the lax version of the unit comparison is considered. The paper is self-contained. All arguments are elementary, some of them of a certain beauty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-76
Number of pages24
JournalMathematical Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2008


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