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Order Relations

A natural ability of the human mind is to compare the size of different things or order them by size. Also in elementary school, we learn how to compare numbers. For instance, any two integer numbers $a\in\mathbb Z$ and $b\in\mathbb Z$ can be compared to each other with the common notations “$a<b$” expressing “$a$ is smaller than $b$”, or “$a\ge b$” expressing “$a$ is greater than or equal to $b$”.

Let us take a more general look at what happens here and free ourselves from thinking about $a$ and $b$ as numbers. Suppose, $a$ and $b$ could be anything, cars, houses, or mathematical objects which are not necessarily numbers.

We can always compare $a$ with itself (Reflexivity).

If $a$ can be compared to $b$ and $b$ can be compared to $c$, then we can compare $a$ with $c$ (Transitivity).

Suppose, $a$ and $b$ can be compared with each other. Imagine, we want to put $a$ and $b$ into a list and order them by our comparison criteria. There are situations, in which we will have still problems in deciding whether we should put $a$ before $b$ or vice versa. Those situations are exactly when we think $a=b$ with respect to our comparison criteria (Antisymmetry).

There are situations, in which $a$ and $b$ are not comparable at all.

These properties are strongly related to the properties of binary relations and allow us to define a concept of a generalized order relation, which is applicable to all kinds of mathematical objects and not only to numbers.