In mathematics, especially in order theory, a **maximal element** of a subset *S* of some partially ordered set is an element of *S* that is not smaller than any other element in *S*. A **minimal element** of a subset *S* of some partially ordered set is defined dually as an element of *S* that is not greater than any other element in *S*. The notions of maximal and minimal elements are weaker than those of greatest element and least element which are also known, respectively, as maximum and minimum. The maximum of a subset *S* of a partially ordered set is an element of *S* which is greater than or equal to any other element of *S*, and the minimum of *S* is again defined dually. For totally ordered sets, the notions of maximal element and maximum on one hand and minimal element and minimum on the other hand coincide.

While a partially ordered set can have at most one each maximum and minimum it may have multiple maximal and minimal elements. Zorn's lemma states that every partially ordered set for which every totally ordered subset has an upper bound contains at least one maximal element. This lemma is equivalent to the well-ordering theorem and the axiom of choice and implies major results in other mathematical areas like the Hahnâ€“Banach theorem and Tychonoff's theorem, the existence of a Hamel basis for every vector space, and the existence of an algebraic closure for every field.

As an example, in the collection

*S*= {{*d*,*o*}, {*d*,*o*,*g*}, {*g*,*o*,*a*,*d*}, {*o*,*a*,*f*}}

ordered by containment, the element {*d*, *o*} is minimal, the element {*g*, *o*, *a*, *d*} is maximal, the element {*d*, *o*, *g*} is neither, and the element {*o*, *a*, *f*} is both minimal and maximal. By contrast, neither a maximum nor a minimum exists for *S*.

Read more about Maximal Element: Definition, Existence and Uniqueness, Maximal Elements and The Greatest Element, Directed Sets, Examples, Related Notions

### Famous quotes containing the word element:

“Out of the *element* of participation follows the certainty of faith; out of the *element* of separation follows the doubt in faith. And each is essential for the nature of faith. Sometimes certainty conquers doubt, but it cannot eliminate doubt. The conquered of today may become the conqueror of tomorrow. Sometimes doubt conquers faith, but it still contains faith. Otherwise it would be indifference.”

—Paul Tillich (1886–1965)