In mathematics, Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory with the axiom of choice, named after mathematicians Ernst Zermelo and Abraham Fraenkel and commonly abbreviated ZFC, is one of several axiomatic systems that were proposed in the early twentieth century to formulate a theory of sets without the paradoxes of naive set theory like Russell's paradox. Specifically, ZFC does not allow unrestricted comprehension. Today ZFC is the standard form of axiomatic set theory and as such is the most common foundation of mathematics.
ZFC has a single primitive ontological notion, that of a hereditary wellfounded set, and a single ontological assumption, namely that all individuals in the universe of discourse are such sets. Thus, ZFC is a set theory without urelements (elements of sets which are not themselves sets). ZFC does not formalize the notion of classes (collections of mathematical objects defined by a property shared by their members) and specifically does not include proper classes (objects that have members but cannot be members themselves).
ZFC is a onesorted theory in firstorder logic. The signature has equality and a single primitive binary relation, set membership, which is usually denoted ∈. The formula a ∈ b means that the set a is a member of the set b (which is also read, "a is an element of b" or "a is in b").
There are many equivalent formulations of the ZFC axioms. Most of the ZFC axioms state the existence of particular sets. For example, the axiom of pairing says that given any two sets a and b there is a new set {a, b} containing exactly a and b. Other axioms describe properties of set membership. A goal of the ZFC axioms is that each axiom should be true if interpreted as a statement about the collection of all sets in the von Neumann universe (also known as the cumulative hierarchy).
The metamathematics of ZFC has been extensively studied. Landmark results in this area established the independence of the continuum hypothesis from ZFC, and of the axiom of choice from the remaining ZFC axioms.
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