Free will is not to make mistakes in your reasoning
I have been thinking about the question if a free will exists for a long time, already at highschool I wrote a paper about it. It took a long time, but some months ago I found a kind of satisfying answer for myself.
For a long time I thought that there was almost no free will. There are so many things in my life that I am confronted with and that I cannt change: where I am born, what happens to me, if I have good luck or bad luck, etc. And if there are different possibilities that I can choose between, it's still not a free will, because my background determines what I want to choose. Even if I want something which is bad for me, I can't change my wishes / desires.
So then in fact everything is determined, it is determined if I have good luck or bad luck and it is determined which choices I will make, based on my desires, as a result of my character and how I grew up.
But some months ago I discovered a point in the chain of causes and effects where there is some kind of freedom, nonetheless. I can't change what I desire. This is the goal that I want to achieve. For instance: I have a desire to help poor people in the third world. I cannot decide that I will no longer have that desire, it is stronger than me, it is not my reason which decides what my desires and passions are for, they are there, coming directly from my unconsciousness.
My passions and desires determines the goals I want to achieve. My reason helps me to decide which would be the best road to achieve these goals. I am standing at some crossroads. I have to decide which road I will go. I don't know where the different roads lead to. But I can try to imagine where they go to, I can walk these roads, each of them, in my mind. So I consciously think about which aim I want to achieve, and which road would lead to that goal. I listen to my heart to know what I desire and I think about how I can get there. When I do this, I use my potential freedom. As a conscious human being I have the capacity to reflect on what I am doing and to make deliberate choices. When I don't do this, when I follow a random road without thinking about it, the chance is big that I won't reach my goal. So the free will means that I use the full potential of my reason to achieve the desired destination. At a student party I explained this idea to a colleague philosopher and he said then: "so the free will means that you don't make a mistake in your thinking process when you try to achieve the desired goal (vrije wil betekent dat je geen redeneerfout maakt wanneer je je doel probeert te bereiken). I thought that it sounded strange, that the free will means that you don't make a mistake in a rational decision process. It isn't completely rational either; you first have to feel what you desire, because your reason alone can never know what your heart longs for. But I do think that the freedom is located in the choice process, if you skip that process you don't use your freedom.
The place where you start is determined and the place where you want to go to is determined, but you are free to choose which road you will take in trying to get there. It's like a labyrinth in which you try to find out which road goes where.
If you were walking blindly, automatically, you have to start thinking again about where you are going, because the other asks you these questions and invites you to respond. If you don't walk blindly but think about where you are going, this increases the chance that you will reach your goal, even when all these questions of the other are uncomfortable and confronting, and when it makes you unsure, because at once you start to think that you might be walking in the wrong direction. But still it is healthy and useful to respond to the questions of the other / the stranger.