A self-contained, brief and complete formulation of Voevodsky’s univalence axiom

I have often seen competent mathematicians and logicians, outside our circle, making technically erroneous comments about the univalence axiom, in conversations, in talks, and even in public material, in journals or the web.

For some time I was a bit upset about this. But maybe this is our fault, by often trying to explain univalence only imprecisely, mixing the explanation of the models with the explanation of the underlying Martin-Löf type theory, with none of the two explained sufficiently precisely.

There are long, precise explanations such as the HoTT book, for example, or the various formalizations in Coq, Agda and Lean.

But perhaps we don’t have publicly available material with a self-contained, brief and complete formulation of univalence, so that interested mathematicians and logicians can try to contemplate the axiom in a fully defined form.

So here is an attempt of a  self-contained, brief and complete formulation of Voevodsky’s Univalence Axiom in the arxiv.

This has an Agda file with univalence defined from scratch as an ancillary file, without the use of any library at all, to try to show what the length of a self-contained definition of the univalence type is. Perhaps somebody should add a Coq “version from scratch” of this.

There is also a web version UnivalenceFromScratch to try to make this as accessible as possible, with the text and the Agda code together.

The above notes explain the univalence axiom only. Regarding its role, we recommend Dan Grayson’s introduction to univalent foundations for mathematicians.

About Martin Escardo

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