How Category Theory Works

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Abstract
The purpose of this paper is to show that the dual notions of elements & distinctions are the basic analytical concepts needed to unpack and analyze morphisms, duality, and universal constructions in the Sets, the category of sets and functions. The analysis extends directly to other concrete categories (groups, rings, vector spaces, etc.) where the objects are sets with a certain type of structure and the morphisms are functions that preserve that structure. Then the elements & distinctions-based definitions can be abstracted in purely arrow-theoretic way for abstract category theory. In short, the language of elements & distinctions is the conceptual language in which the category of sets is written, and abstract category theory gives the abstract arrows version of those definitions.
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Archival date: 2020-07-11
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