In the foundations of mathematics, the axiom of infinity asserts that infinite sets exist. Infinite sets cannot be constructed from finite sets, so their existence must be posited as an extra axiom. Further axioms in this vein which assert the existence of even larger sets that cannot be constructed from smaller ones are called large cardinal axioms.

Statements

One common form of the axiom of infinity says that the particular set $N$ of natural numbers exists. In material set theory this often takes the form of asserting that the von Neumann ordinal number$\omega$ exists, where $\omega$ is characterized as the smallest set such that $\emptyset\in\omega$ and whenever $a\in \omega$ then $a\cup \{a\}\in \omega$. In structural set theory the usual form of the axiom of infinity is the existence of a natural numbers object.

In the form of an NNO, the axiom of infinity generalises to the existence of inductive types or W-types. These can be constructed from a NNO if power sets exist, but in predicative theories they can be added as additional axioms.

Alternatives

Broadly speaking, finite mathematics is mathematics that does not use or need the axiom of infinity; a finitist is an extreme breed of constructivist that believes that mathematics is better without the axiom of infinity, or even that this axiom is false.

A more extreme case is to deny the axiom of infinity with an axiom of finiteness: every set is finite. There is one of these for every definition of ‘finite’ given on that page; here is the strongest stated directly in terms of set theory as an axiom of induction:

Any property of sets that is invariant under isomorphism and holds for the empty set must hold for all sets if, whenever it holds for a set $X$, it holds for the disjoint union$X \uplus \{*\}$.