Epimorphisms of groups

In my previous post, we saw that injections (surjections) in concrete categories are always monomorphisms (epimorphisms), and in some cases the converse holds.

We now wish to classify all epimorphisms of groups. To show that all epimorphisms are surjective, for any strict subgroup H \subseteq G we want to construct maps f_1, f_2 \colon G \to G' to some group G' that differ on G but agree on H. In the case of abelian groups this is relatively easy, because we can take G' to be the cokernel, f_1 the quotient map, and f_2 the zero map. But in general the cokernel only exists if the image is normal, so a different argument is needed.

Lemma. Let f \colon H \to G be a group homomorphism. Then f is an epimorphism if and only if f is surjective.

Proof. We already saw that surjections are epimorphisms. Conversely, let f \colon H \to G be an epimorphism of groups. We may replace H by its image in G, since the map \im(f) \to G is still an epimorphism. Let X = G/H be the coset space, viewed as a pointed set with distinguished element * = H. Let Y = X \amalg_{X\setminus *} X be the set “X with the distinguished point doubled”, and write *_1 and *_2 for these distinguished points.

Let S(Y) be the symmetric group on Y, and define homomorphisms f_i \colon G \to S(Y) by letting G act naturally on the i^{\text{th}} copy of X in Y (for i \in \{1,2\}). Since the action of H on X = G/H fixes the trivial coset *, we see that the maps f_i|_H agree. Since f is an epimorphism, this forces f_1 = f_2. But then

    \[H = \Stab_{f_1}(*_1) = \Stab_{f_2}(*_1) = G,\]

showing that f is surjective (and a fortiori X = \{*\}). \qedsymbol

Note however that the result is not true in every algebraic category. For example, the map \mathbf Z \to \mathbf Q is an epimorphism of (commutative) rings that is not surjective. More generally, every localisation R \to R[S^{-1}] is an epimorphism, by the universal property of localisation; these maps are rarely surjective.

Concrete categories and monomorphisms

This post serves to collect some background on concrete categories for my next post.

Concrete categories are categories in which objects have an underlying set:

Definition. A concrete category is a pair (\mathscr C, U) of a category \mathscr C with a faithful functor U \colon \mathscr C \to \mathbf{Set}. In cases where U is understood, we will simply say \mathscr C is a concrete category.

Example. The categories \mathbf{Gp} of groups, \mathbf{Top} of topological spaces, \mathbf{Ring} of rings, and \mathbf{Mod}_R of R-modules are concrete in an obvious way. The category \mathbf{Sh}(X) of sheaves on a site X with enough points is concrete by mapping a sheaf to the disjoint union of its stalks (the same holds for any Grothendieck topos, but a different argument is needed). Similarly, the category \mathbf{Sch} of schemes can be concretised by sending (X,\mathcal O_X) to \coprod_{x \in X} \mathcal P(\mathcal O_{X,x}), where \mathcal P is the contravariant power set functor.

Today we will study the relationship between monomorphisms and injections in \mathscr C:

Lemma. Let (\mathscr C,U) be a concrete category, and let f \colon A \to B be a morphism in \mathscr C. If Uf is a monomorphism (resp. epimorphism), then so is f.

Proof. A morphism f \colon A \to B in \mathscr C is a monomorphism if and only if the induced map \Mor_{\mathscr C}(-,A) \to \Mor_{\mathscr C}(-,B) is injective. Faithfulness implies that the vertical maps in the commutative diagram

    \[\begin{array}{ccc} \Mor_{\mathscr C}(-,A) & \to & \Mor_{\mathscr C}(-,B) \\ \downarrow & & \downarrow \\ \Mor_{\mathbf{Set}}(U-,UA) & \to & \Mor_{\mathbf{Set}}(U-,UB) \end{array}\]

are injective, hence if the bottom map is injective so is the top. The statement about epimorphisms follows dually. \qedsymbol

For example, this says that any injection of groups is a monomorphism, and any surjection of rings is an epimorphism, since the monomorphisms (epimorphisms) in \mathbf{Set} are exactly the injections (surjections).

In some concrete categories, these are the only monomorphisms and epimorphisms. For example:

Lemma. Let (\mathscr C,U) be a concrete category such that the forgetful functor U admits a left (right) adjoint. Then every monomorphism (epimorphism) in \mathscr C is injective (surjective).

Proof. If U is a right adjoint, it preserves limits. But f \colon A \to B is a monomorphism if and only if the square

    \[\begin{array}{ccc} A & \overset{\text{id}}\to & A \\ \!\!\!\!\!{\scriptsize \text{id}}\downarrow & & \downarrow {\scriptsize f}\!\!\!\!\! \\ A & \underset{f}\to & B \end{array}\]

is a pullback. Thus, U preserves monomorphisms if it preserves limits. The statement about epimorphisms is dual. \qedsymbol

For example, the forgetful functors on algebraic categories like \mathbf{Gp}, \mathbf{Ring}, and \mathbf{Mod}_R have left adjoints (a free functor), so all monomorphisms are injective.

The forgetful functor \mathbf{Top} \to \mathbf{Set} has adjoints on both sides: the left adjoint is given by the discrete topology, and the right adjoint by the indiscrete topology. Thus, monomorphisms and epimorphisms in \mathbf{Top} are exactly injections and surjections, respectively.

On the other hand, in the category \mathbf{Haus} of Hausdorff topological spaces, the inclusion \mathbf Q \hookrightarrow \mathbf R is an epimorphism that is not surjective. Indeed, a map f \colon \mathbf R \to X to a Hausdorff space X is determined by its values on \mathbf Q.