# Coherence condition

In mathematics, and particularly category theory, a coherence condition is a collection of conditions requiring that various compositions of elementary morphisms are equal. Typically the elementary morphisms are part of the data of the category. A coherence theorem states that, in order to be assured that all these equalities hold, it suffices to check a small number of identities.

## An illustrative example: a monoidal category

Part of the data of a monoidal category is a chosen morphism $\alpha _{A,B,C}$ , called the associator:

$\alpha _{A,B,C}\colon (A\otimes B)\otimes C\rightarrow A\otimes (B\otimes C)$ for each triple of objects $A,B,C$ in the category. Using compositions of these $\alpha _{A,B,C}$ , one can construct a morphism

$((A_{N}\otimes A_{N-1})\otimes A_{N-2})\otimes \cdots \otimes A_{1})\rightarrow (A_{N}\otimes (A_{N-1}\otimes \cdots \otimes (A_{2}\otimes A_{1})).$ Actually, there are many ways to construct such a morphism as a composition of various $\alpha _{A,B,C}$ . One coherence condition that is typically imposed is that these compositions are all equal.

Typically one proves a coherence condition using a coherence theorem, which states that one only needs to check a few equalities of compositions in order to show that the rest also hold. In the above example, one only needs to check that, for all quadruples of objects $A,B,C,D$ , the following diagram commutes.

Any pair of morphisms from $((\cdots (A_{N}\otimes A_{N-1})\otimes \cdots )\otimes A_{2})\otimes A_{1})$ to $(A_{N}\otimes (A_{N-1}\otimes (\cdots \otimes (A_{2}\otimes A_{1})\cdots ))$ constructed as compositions of various $\alpha _{A,B,C}$ are equal.

## Further examples

Two simple examples that illustrate the definition are as follows. Both are directly from the definition of a category.

### Identity

Let f : AB be a morphism of a category containing two objects A and B. Associated with these objects are the identity morphisms 1A : AA and 1B : BB. By composing these with f, we construct two morphisms:

f o 1A : AB, and
1B o f : AB.

Both are morphisms between the same objects as f. We have, accordingly, the following coherence statement:

f o 1A = f  = 1B o f.

### Associativity of composition

Let f : AB, g : BC and h : CD be morphisms of a category containing objects A, B, C and D. By repeated composition, we can construct a morphism from A to D in two ways:

(h o g) o f : AD, and
h o (g o f) : AD.

We have now the following coherence statement:

(h o g) o f = h o (g o f).

In these two particular examples, the coherence statements are theorems for the case of an abstract category, since they follow directly from the axioms; in fact, they are axioms. For the case of a concrete mathematical structure, they can be viewed as conditions, namely as requirements for the mathematical structure under consideration to be a concrete category, requirements that such a structure may meet or fail to meet.