[Haskell-cafe] Why Kleisli composition is not in the Monad signature?

Dan Doel dan.doel at gmail.com
Tue Oct 16 17:58:44 CEST 2012

On Tue, Oct 16, 2012 at 10:37 AM, AUGER Cédric <sedrikov at gmail.com> wrote:
> join IS the most important from the categorical point of view.
> In a way it is natural to define 'bind' from 'join', but in Haskell, it
> is not always possible (see the Monad/Functor problem).
> As I said, from the mathematical point of view, join (often noted μ in
> category theory) is the (natural) transformation which with return (η
> that I may have erroneously written ε in some previous mail) defines a
> monad (and requires some additionnal law).

This is the way it's typically presented. Can you demonstrate that it
is the most important presentation?

I'd urge caution in doing so, too. For instance, there is a paper,
Monads Need Not Be Endofunctors, that describes a generalization of
monads to monads relative to another functor. And there, bind is
necessarily primary, because join isn't even well typed. I don't think
it's written by mathematicians per se (rather, computer
scientists/type theorists). But mathematicians have their own
particular interests that affect the way they frame things, and that
doesn't mean those ways are better for everyone.

> As often some points it out,
> Haskellers are not very right in their definition of Monad, not because
> of the bind vs join (in fact in a Monad either of them can be defined
> from the other one), but because of the functor status of a Monad. A
> monad, should always be a functor (at least to fit its mathematical
> definition). And this problem with the functor has probably lead to the
> use of "bind" (which is polymorphic in two type variables) rather than
> "join" (which has only one type variable, and thus is simpler).
> The problem, is that when 'm' is a Haskell Monad which does not belong
> to the Functor class, we cannot define 'bind' in general from 'join'.

I don't think Functor being a superclass of Monad would make much
difference. For instance, Applicative is properly a subclass of
Functor, but we don't use the minimal definition that cannot reproduce
fmap on its own:

    class Functor f => LaxMonoidal f where
      unit :: f ()
      pair :: f a -> f b -> f (a, b)

Instead we use a formulation that subsumes fmap:

    fmap f x = pure f <*> x

Because those primitives are what we actually want to use, and it's
more efficient to implement those directly than to go through some set
of fully orthogonal combinators purely for the sake of mathematical

And this goes for Monad, as well. For most of the monads in Haskell,
the definition of join looks exactly like a definition of (>>= id),
and it's not very arduous to extend that to (>>= f). But if we do
define join, then we must recover (>>=) by traversing twice; once for
map and once for join. There are some examples where join can be
implemented more efficiently than bind, but I don't actually know of
any Haskell Monads for which this is the case.

And as I mentioned earlier, despite many Haskell folks often not
digging into monads as done by mathematicians much (and that's fine),
(>>=) does correspond to a nice operation: variable substitution. This
is true in category theory, when you talk about algebraic theories,
and it's true in Haskell when you start noticing that various little
languages are described by algebraic theories. But from this angle, I
see no reason why it's _better_ to split variable substitution into
two operations, first turning a tree into a tree of trees, and then

It'd be nice if all Functor were a prerequisite for Monad, but even
then there are still reasons for making (>>=) a primitive.

-- Dan

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