In mathematics, the power set (or powerset) of any set is the set of all of , including the empty set and itself, variously denoted as (), 𝒫(), ℘() (using the "Weierstrass p"), , , or, identifying the powerset of with the set of all functions from to a given set of two elements, . In axiomatic set theory (as developed, for example, in the ZFC axioms), the existence of the power set of any set is postulated by the axiom of power set.
Any subset of () is called a family of sets over .
Cantor's diagonal argument shows that the power set of a set (whether infinite or not) always has strictly higher cardinality than the set itself (informally the power set must be larger than the original set). In particular, Cantor's theorem shows that the power set of a countable set set is uncountable infinite. The power set of the set of can be put in a bijection with the set of (see Cardinality of the continuum).
The power set of a set , together with the operations of union, intersection and complement can be viewed as the prototypical example of a Boolean algebra. In fact, one can show that any finite Boolean algebra is isomorphic to the Boolean algebra of the power set of a finite set. For infinite Boolean algebras this is no longer true, but every infinite Boolean algebra can be represented as a subalgebra of a power set Boolean algebra (see Stone's representation theorem).
The power set of a set forms an abelian group when considered with the operation of symmetric difference (with the empty set as the identity element and each set being its own inverse) and a commutative monoid when considered with the operation of intersection. It can hence be shown (by proving the distributive laws) that the power set considered together with both of these operations forms a Boolean ring.
This notion can be applied to the example above in which to see the isomorphism with the binary numbers from 0 to with being the number of elements in the set. In , a "1" in the position corresponding to the location in the set indicates the presence of the element. So .
For the whole power set of we get:
For example, the power set of a set with three elements, has:
Define the operation }.
In English, return the set with the element added to each set in .
In other words, the power set of the empty set is the set containing the empty set and the power set of any other set is all the subsets of the set containing some specific element and all the subsets of the set not containing that specific element.
Now the power set of a set, when ordered by inclusion, is always a complete atomic Boolean algebra, and every complete atomic Boolean algebra arises as the lattice of all subsets of some set. The generalization to arbitrary algebras is that the set of subalgebras of an algebra, again ordered by inclusion, is always an algebraic lattice, and every algebraic lattice arises as the lattice of subalgebras of some algebra. So in that regard subalgebras behave analogously to subsets.
However, there are two important properties of subsets that do not carry over to subalgebras in general. First, although the subsets of a set form a set (as well as a lattice), in some classes it may not be possible to organize the subalgebras of an algebra as itself an algebra in that class, although they can always be organized as a lattice. Secondly, whereas the subsets of a set are in bijection with the functions from that set to the set {0,1} = 2, there is no guarantee that a class of algebras contains an algebra that can play the role of 2 in this way.
Certain classes of algebras enjoy both of these properties. The first property is more common, the case of having both is relatively rare. One class that does have both is that of . Given two multigraphs and , a homomorphism consists of two functions, one mapping vertices to vertices and the other mapping edges to edges. The set of homomorphisms from to can then be organized as the graph whose vertices and edges are respectively the vertex and edge functions appearing in that set. Furthermore, the subgraphs of a multigraph are in bijection with the graph homomorphisms from to the multigraph definable as the complete graph on two vertices (hence four edges, namely two selfloops and two more edges forming a cycle) augmented with a fifth edge, namely a second selfloop at one of the vertices. We can therefore organize the subgraphs of as the multigraph , called the power object of .
What is special about a multigraph as an algebra is that its operations are unary. A multigraph has two sorts of elements forming a set of vertices and of edges, and has two unary operations giving the source (start) and target (end) vertices of each edge. An algebra all of whose operations are unary is called a presheaf. Every class of presheaves contains a presheaf that plays the role for subalgebras that 2 plays for subsets. Such a class is a special case of the more general notion of elementary topos as a category that is closed category (and moreover cartesian closed) and has an object , called a subobject classifier. Although the term "power object" is sometimes used synonymously with exponential object , in topos theory is required to be .

