All men are created equal.

Thomas Jefferson, *Declaration of Independence*

I don't hold with equality in all things, just equality before the law, nothing more.

character of Rep. Thaddeus Stevens in the film *Lincoln*

We ordinarily are completely comfortable writing things like

The symbols and , though, are definitely not the same. One of them, for example, has four digits in the denominator, whereas the other has only one digit in the denominator. So in what sense is it the case that these three symbols are the same? Intuitively, they *represent* the same thing.

Children are usually introduced to fractions as being *parts of a whole*. What is half a pizza? It's what happens when you divide one pizza into two parts. Then we think of fractions like as either: one piece, if you divide two pizzas into four parts, or two pieces if you divide one pizza into four parts. But these are manifestly not the same thing! Two halves of a Ming vase are not the same as a whole Ming vase, and if you ordered a pizza at the pizza shop, you'd be very upset when they brought out a pizza in a million little pieces.

Yet we write and don't really think about it. We're choosing to ignore some differences between two things, and treat them like they're equal. Like Thaddeus Stevens, we are not asserting *equality in all things*, only* equality before the law* (of fractions).

An *equivalence relation* is a way of formalizing this process of picking what to ignore and what to pay attention to.

### Equality

The following properties are true for the identity relation (we usually write as ):

- is {\em reflexive}: for any object , (or ).
- is {\em symmetric}: for any objects and , if then it must be the case that .
- is {\em transitive}: for any objects , , and , if and then it must be the case that .

Equality also has the *replacement property*: if , then any occurrence of can be replaced by without changing the meaning. So for example, when we write , we know that is false, because is false.

Notice that Thomas Jefferson's claim that all men are created equal does not have this property. Michael Jackson is a man, and Bill Nye is a man, so if all men are equal, we should be able to replace any occurrence of ``Michael Jackson" with ``Bill Nye" without loss of meaning. It's true that

Michael Jackson is the King of Pop.

But we can't say that this means

Bill Nye is the King of Pop.

So it seems like we at least have to give up the replacement property, if we want to make sense of notions like *equal before the law*.

### Equivalence

We want to treat different things as though they were the same, so we need the properties of equality. This motivates the following definition:

**Definition. **A relation on the set is an *equivalence relation* if it is reflexive, symmetric, and transitive, that is, if:

**E.g. **Equality is an equivalence relation.

**E.g. **Consider the relation on given by iff . We'll show is an equivalence relation.

**Proof. **First show that is reflexive. Let be a real number. Then , so .

Now show that is symmetric. Suppose and are real numbers with . Then , so , so .

Finally, show that is transitive. Suppose , , and are real numbers with and . Then and , so , i.e. .

In fact, it's easy to come up with equivalence relation on any set , given a function : define to mean .

**E.g. **Let be the relation on given by: iff . Then is an equivalence relation.

**E.g. **Let be the relation on given by if and have the same parity (i.e. are either both even or are both odd). Then is an equivalence relation.

### An example from algebra: modular arithmetic

The following generalizes the previous example :

**Definition. **Let be an integer. We say *is equal to modulo * if is a multiple of , i.e. if there is with .

**Theorem. **Equality modulo is an equivalence relation.

**Proof. **First we'll show that equality modulo is reflexive. Let . Then , so is equal to modulo .

Now we'll show that equality modulo is symmetric. Suppose is equal to modulo . Then there is some with . So , which shows that is a multiple of , hence is equal to modulo .

Now we'll show that equality modulo is transitive. Suppose is equal to modulo and is equal to modulo . Consider

so is the sum of two multiples of , hence a multiple of itself. Thus is equal to modulo . .

It turns out that the arithmetic of --that is, addition, subtraction, and multiplication--makes sense if consider equality-modulo- instead of ordinary equality. We call this {\em modular arithmetic} and refer to as the *modulus*.

The following are standard notations for `` is equal to modulo ":

**Theorem. **If and , then and .

**Proof. **Suppose and . That is, suppose and are multiples of . Then

is the sum of multiples of , hence a multiple of . So . Also

so that is the sum of two terms, each of which is a multiple of , hence is a multiple of , which is to say . .

**Exercise.**Show that if and , then .