Augustine's idea of freedom developed in the context of the world of that time, into the pores of which fatalism had crept, which Augustine was not spared either. Of these youthful experiences, he has always been intensely interested in the problem of freedom, the understanding of the final human determination, and the value of human actions in relation to that determination. Philosophical schools and directions with which St. Augustine met, and which left a strong influence on him with their fatalistic determinism did not provide him with sufficient answers to questions about man and his freedom.
The idea, though not thematic, of human freedom existed within the fatalistic and deterministic systems of ancient philosophy, which confirms the existence of practical philosophy or ethics in which man was reckoned as a being responsible for his actions. The problem at that time was that only social and political freedom was in their consideration. However, experience has shown both that a socio-politically free man can feel a certain captivity and that a socio-politically captive man can feel a certain level of freedom in himself. There is thus another completely different level of freedom from the external one, which the ancient thinkers failed to reach in an adequate way in their time. The problem was how to reach this perceived inner freedom, imagine it as an object of theoretical knowledge, define it and get acquainted with its nature. This is a task that Augustine would try to solve with his method of immersion in the human interior and why his concept of freedom seems interesting to observe.
The inability of ancient thinkers to adequately dive into the depths of the human being resulted in a rather disordered and somewhat spontaneous reflection on freedom. Due to its transcendent nature, freedom escapes their socio-politically oriented views and creates a thinking chaos. Augustine was more interested in understanding the final human determination and thus sought the final answers. Prone to numerous coups, the socio-political level could not offer such enduring answers and Augustine finally decided to look for them in an eternal and unchanging being, God. Such a firm reliance on God's existence in the search for the truth about man raises the question of how unconditional Augustine was in his thinking in the Christian thought in which he was raised, which may call into question the objectivity of his method. Augustine was aware of the Christian heritage and did not hesitate to put inherited beliefs under the scrutiny of critical questioning. After all, he himself, through a good period of his life, rejected Christianity as unworthy of philosophy.
After a long search, the method of "immersion" was the one that marked the thought of St. Augustine. It revealed to him that the meaning and answers to fundamental human questions should be sought within oneself. In this way, with his introspective approach to man, Augustine had centuries earlier preceded Freud's psychoanalysis in every way and paved the way for it. Freud in his practice, however, rejected the transcendent as such, while in Augustine the fundamental feature of human nature is its transcendence.
Ancient philosophical thought is imbued with fatalism and determinism. There are a number of different conditions and causes in ancient theoretical philosophy on the basis of which it is concluded that the fate of the world and man is fatalistically determined. However, in antiquity there would be a number of moral and state laws and regulations that provide for penalties or rewards from which one can sence an inlking of human freedom. The freedom to respect or disobey these laws is a condition of the existence of rewards and punishments and the law itself. Ancient thinkers clearly felt this natural unconditionality of the human being as far as his final destiny was concerned, but they did not penetrate beyond the encroachment into everyday social freedom. Thus, none of the ancient philosophical directions gave Augustine sufficient answers to questions about man and his freedom. Because of this, he himself, unable to understand the meaning and purpose of human life, fell into skepticism in his youth. He found a way out of this vicious circle by penetrating the depths of human personality, discovering the difference between form and content that man can only distinguish with his mind. For the external senses, therefore, two mutually exclusive realities can be identical in form. Thus, for example, both good and evil feel the tendency to live without fear. However, the difference is in the interior where the good ones distract love from those things that they cannot possess without the danger of losing them, and the evil ones, in order to safely enjoy them, try to remove obstacles with a criminal life. So Augustine strives for the nature of freedom that cannot be lost against his will, because if the pursuit of things that can be lost against the will is called evil desire, then freedom, if it is natural to man, should be such that it cannot be lost against man's will. Freedom and freedom of will are one and the same for him.
With his approach, Augustine seems to have succeeded where many philosophers find difficulties, which is to grasp and to present free will as a subject of theoretical knowledge. However, the methodological problem, from the perspective of philosophy, is that Augustine takes God's existence as a starting point. His upbringing in the Christian spirit had a great influence on him and Augustine himself does not hide it. Yet he was free to question and compare Christian doctrine with the philosophical directions of his time. And through a good period of his life he rejected his inherited faith along with the Scriptures as unworthy compared to philosophers like Cicero. In the end, remaining disappointed with the philosophy of his time, he began to cautiously return to his Christian roots. The concept and value of Augustine's view of freedom, after all his wanderings, derive almost exclusively from the plantings and experiences of the Catholic faith and man as a transcendent being. This is perhaps the most special aspect of his personality.
The freedom of Augustine's youth is best suited to the definition of freedom and free will according to which Augustine's action x was free if and only if Augustine could have done otherwise, when he was able to choose on the basis of which desires he would act, largely excluding an attempt to understand his own actions and any possible moral perspective. Over time, however, he began to realize that he cannot control his desires and choices. He recognized that he is not their master but a slave. While he lived unfettered and free on the outside, at the same time he felt considerable captivity on the inside. External bodily actions could not bring him liberation from this kind of captivity. He set out to seek his liberation through philosophy. Cicero's thought delighted Augustine and broadened his horizons, giving him a sense of values and pleasures above the apparent reality. From this point on, he considered only truth to be worth exploring. In search of true wisdom, Augustine set out to study the Scriptures once again. The unskilled to know the depths of the contents of the biblical message is disappointed by it. Cicero did not ignite Augustine for this or that philosophical school or current, but for wisdom itself, for striving to understand its existence. His thirst for the knowledge of immortal wisdom led him to the Manichaeans, a Gnostic-dualist sect, who were attracted by their loud and vain inflated notions of truth, wisdom and the name of Christ. The Manichaeans interpreted the Scriptures unscientifically. As a result, Augustine later did not spare the Manichaeans and their approach to Scripture and reality in general, speaking of his hopelessness, dissatisfaction, and disappointment during his stay among them. Manichaeism is marked by the syncretism of Judeo-Christianity, Iranian dualism and Eastern religions, with an emphasis on dualism in every respect: moral, anthropological and metaphysical. Dualism consists of good or light on the one hand and of evil or darkness on the other as basic principles. Augustine, who holds evil to be the absence of good, considers this position that evil is a basic principle alongside good to be a misconception, whereas Manicheans and many others hold that a state in which any reality is absent is just as real, and not the absence of reality. Darkness is not something but the absence of light.
Influenced by the Manichean materialist image, Augustine could not imagine God as an immaterial spiritual being. He no longer imagined God in human form, but he could not imagine him other than in material form. His thought of an infinite God encounterd obstacles in the form of evil as the Manichaeans taught that evil is an entity in itself, opposed to God and of course also material. Therefore, God extends in all directions, but only to the space where evil resides in its matter, which would mean that God is not infinite. Unable to solve this problem, he fell into skepticism about the possibility of knowing the truth, and to him this fact seemed like a wasted life.
It was not difficult for him to follow the skeptics, because after the bloated Manichaeans, who claimed to know everything, they seemed credible and moderate, claiming that they knew nothing, i.e. that everything should be doubted and that the truth could not be known. With his fatalism about the possibility of any knowledge, skepticism deeply affected Augustine, which would encourage him to free his mind of skepticism, which instilled hopelessness in many people by teaching that the truth cannot be found. In 384 in Milan, Augustine met and listened to the sermons of Bishop Ambrose in which the spiritual meaning of the Holy Scriptures is emphasized. Encouraged by Ambrose's sermons, he began to read and study the Scriptures again. Studying the Holy Scriptures under this spiritual perspective, the earlier contradictions of certain texts, as well as the contradictions of the Old and New Testaments, began to fall away. By accepting the spiritual approach of reality, faith and reason were revealed to him as complementary, which later played a crucial role in understanding the relationship between man and his freedom. He begins to study Plato and the Neoplatonists. Studying the books of academics was a balm for Augustine's soul. They restored his hope that the truth could be known. Simplician, a very pious priest, would later praise him for reading Plato because he refers to the One God, that is, to the spiritual support where Augustine would place his thought on the freedom of man. Augustine himself, as a priest and bishop, would greatly appreciate Plato and the academics. In the work On the city of God, he writes about them as those who fully deserved to enjoy their fame and glory over other philosophical currents and how, of all philosophers, they came closest to the Catholic faith. The academics, with their teaching on God, brought Augustine back to the very threshold of Christianity, and it was to Augustine's credit that he dared to step beyond that threshold. Crossing this threshold, he learned that the Principle of the world was a personal and rational reality, not some blind force. Impressed by materialism, he was tormented by the thought that this Principle of the world, if it had no body, would be nothing. He was freed from this thanks to a mystical experience when he heard in a clear inner voice how the spiritual God presented himself to him as the Principle of the world with the words: "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:14). The essence of this principle is that it is, and that it is intangible, spiritual and personal as well. God in himself will remain elusive, but he had definitely been freed of the skepticism about the possibility of knowing the truth and understanding reality. Just knowing all that was not enough. Will and knowledge are two different powers, Seneca said, and Augustine had a chance to see for himself. The will was not ready to follow the insights of reason, but the memory of the deeply lived experience of God strengthened his will in the struggle with his sensual habits. Augustine realizes that the goal of meeting God is not in ecstatic experiences but in liberation from sin, without which there is no liberation of man or understanding of his final destiny. Man himself is responsible for his sins, not, as the Manicheans claimed, some evil principle in him. Augustine clearly feels his inability to regain his inner freedom. The one who could help him in this would have to be God, i.e. someone who is above the weakness of our nature, but also someone who has the experience of living in a human body. It is Jesus Christ, God and man. However, with Christ he was confused by the change of mood, the need to eat and drink, to sleep and rest... All this was incompatible with the unchangeable God, the Principle of the world. Inspired by Ambrose's sermons and spiritual understanding of the Scriptures, he embraced the readings of St. Paul. This time he managed to understand the deeper meaning of the epistles and not only did he realize that St. Paul did neither contradict himself, nor the Law, nor the Prophets, but revealed that everything he read in the Platonists was here as well, but here still enriched by the presence of Christ. Despite all this experience, he still did not follow the knowledge of reason, and Augustine never broke through himself nor did he take that step and follow what reason dictated to him, i.e. God. Augustine did not interpret the experiential fact of disobedience of his own will like the Manicheans as two natures of two souls in man. For him it is all one will, but divided in itself. This division of the human will for Augustine, therefore, is not a miracle but a disease of the soul that does not have enough strength to ascend. It is attracted and exalted by the truth by nature, but it is restrained by sin and sinful habits, which is the reason why people seem to have two wills.
Given his Christian approach, where spiritual reality is viewed as transcendent, more authentic, and more enduring than material, his philosophical method would "provoke" philosophy itself. On the other hand, the question may be whether he was really opposed to philosophy or whether he had opened new horizons to philosophy and paved the way to the eternal and unchanging principles on which philosophy itself rests and is inspired, although it may not be aware of it. By penetrating spiritual reality, Augustine has before his eyes eternal and unchanging principles, and from this position he speaks of concrete material realities which, by their instability, themselves lead to often contradictory conclusions in relation to the spiritual approach. These two approaches can be reconciled if one recognizes and accepts that when speaking from a spiritual perspective one speaks of immutable principles while the material approach speaks of the variability of the concretization of these eternal principles and not of the principles themselves.
For a human to be perfectly arranged means to be in harmony with the eternal law and this is one of the conditions for the realization of personal freedom. In order to conclude how man should be arranged so as to be in accordance with eternal law, Augustine seeks to rationally substantiate the concept of man as a spiritual being. Thus, freedom as one of the basic characteristics of man should be of a spiritual nature.
For Augustine, the psychic dimension that emerges first when we look up from the human body is not authentically human, and animals have it too. Therefore, St. Augustine recognizes the spiritual dimension as that by which man transcends animals. That man transcends animals is obvious by the fact that man is able to tame animals so that they give their instincts and habits to the service of man's will. On the other hand, it is inconceivable that animals, although they surpass us in many of their abilities, would try to subdue man in the same way. What is it that makes a man rise above an animal so that no animal can command him, while he can command many? The mind. The mind that Augustine also calls the spirit would be what makes man superior to animals while the rest of his being has something in common with animals. It follows that this spirit should rule not only over animals but also over the animal part of man. And that would be the perfect order for a man. However, there are spiritual and psychic characteristics that are not present in animals, but are not the highest in humans, such as the pursuit of fame, rule, etc., and it is not appropriate to put them above everything and allow them to govern man. These lower aspirations, if not subjected to reason, make man unhappy. Man should not give up that part which is common to him with plants and animals, but should submit those parts to reason. When man is arranged in this order, then he is in accordance with the eternal law, which is what being free means. And when the higher in man rules over the lower, then man is said to be wise. So, being free or being wise is one and the same. A mad man would not be one who has no spirit, but a mad or unfree man is one in whom spirit or reason has no power over the rest of his being. To Augustine, this is proof that man is a spiritual being, which he concluded by observing how foolish people tame animals, which would not be possible if they did not possess a spirit. Since they possess the spirit, but behave as if they did not have it, it is obvious that they have subordinated the spirit to the lower aspirations of their being. Man, however, is not wise in himself. He draws strength for power over the rest of his being from eternal and unchanging wisdom, God.
Augustine recognizes that something eternal and unchangeable exists by observing the rule and truth of numbers that everyone learns and adopts with their own reason because that is equally available to everyone. In doing so, he distinguishes the number perceived by the mind from that received by the bodily senses. With his mind, man is capable of judging whether mathematical operations are in accordance with truth and the rule of number, or whether a whole is properly and harmoniously composed. The fact that man has the power to judge a reality confirms his transcendence of that reality. So the number, though spiritual and unchangeable, cannot be that ultimate principle because man transcends it since he judges it.
It is in the nature of man to want to be wise and blissful, and everyone feels this aspiration for themselves without anyone else telling them. Everyone realizes with their spirit that one should strive for wisdom. He who is able to know what should be subordinated to something and what to presuppose to something and does and lives in accordance to that, and whom no punishment or intimidation can distract from that life, is wise. Thus, everyone strives for a blissful life as the highest good, and as long as they accord themselves to that aspiration, they are not mistaken. In error are those who strive for bliss, but follow a path that does not lead them to that goal.
Now that he holds that he has proved the existence of an immutable truth, Augustine wonders whether that ultimate truth in relation to our reason is lower, equal, or higher than him? If it is lower, then we would not judge by it but about it, because we do not judge eternal truths that transcend us, and we do not speak of what they should be, but reveal them as they are. We do not correct them but rejoice in their discovery. Further, immutable truth cannot be equal to our reason because it would not be unchangeable but changeable like our reason. All that remains is that this unchanging truth is higher than our mind, by which Augustine showed the possibility that there is something above our spirit, reason and / or mind and thus opened the space for the development of his thoughts on freedom. In this light, he observed that free will is not given to man to sin, but that without it man cannot live honestly. The claim that this is its purpose is understood from the fact that the one who sins has to be punished by God's decree, which would not be fair if we were free to both sin and do good. St. Anselmo also argues that free will is not the power to both sin and not sin because if it were, then even a God who cannot sin would not possess free will. The power to sin is not so much freedom nor part of freedom. This "power" is in fact the lack of the power of non-sin, that is, the lack of the power to remain focused on the highest good, which, according to Augustine, is a consequence of man's conditioned nature created "out of nothing." This again does not mean that man is conditioned in his nature to such an extent that with God's assistance he does not have enough power to live right. Although we have already well entered the field of theology, only by accepting the fundamental Christian notions of sin and grace can Augustine's concept of freedom be understood.
If God is the final or first condition of man's freedom, His grace would be the active condition for the realization of our freedom. Is God's gracious intervention in man's life by which He encourages him for good a violation of man's freedom? According to Augustine, the human will is free when it is able to choose among all possibilities only that desire which will lead it to the realization of its own purpose, the blessed life, God, so that God, by his grace, does not violate man's free will, but rather establishes it. Since freedom depends on the quality of the act, and not on the quantity of possible choices, then every act that directs a person to good would be free. The will of man after the fall of the ancestor is in error due to the purpose for which it was created and as such is not free. Therefore, intervening with such a will is not a violation of her freedom, but the removal of the shackles of her delusion, a redirecting of the deluded will to the path that leads it to the goal it wants to reach. For this reason, it cannot be said that God, by his grace, violates man's freedom, but intervenes in his sick will in order to heal it and direct it to Himself, the Eternal and the Supreme Good. He frees her completely! Philosophy itself, with its definition of fatalism and determinism that denies the role of the spirit, actually cries out to God and invokes Him because otherwise there seems to be no way to free man from fatalisms and determinisms.