If you see a difference, then please explain the difference between the ability to choose and free will.

I have noticed a tendency of many people to suggest that the ability to make a choice and the property or concept of free will are two different things.

I want to be clear: I am not implying that they are or are not. I am curious to understand how people view this. It seems that you could see:

A. No difference
B. A distinct difference
C. A distinction without a difference
D. Something else

I would love to see your explanation, no matter what your answer. I have no interest, in this context, in what any philosopher you can quote had to say. I am curious about your understanding and your ability to state it. 

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I perceive that there is a difference which is caused by the available options, or choices. Free will, by my own definition, would require unlimited or unrestricted choices whereas "the ability to choose" has an unstated implication that there are a limited number of options.

If I had free will I would will that my life be rather different than it is. My options do not, in reality, include some of the things that I would will.
I am all for testing the hypothesis. I do not understand your suggested test though. It would seem to be testing a human's ability to make a specific choice with a specific set of preconditions. This would demonstrate the existence of free agency, as I understand it, but I don't think the existence of free agency is in question. In fact I haven't yet read the 'free will' question framed in such a way that it is clear what would be tested.
Tom - I think you are on to something - something that I am very curious about. This is one reason that I am especially interested in the views of people who still harbor a question, curiosity, doubt - whatever you want to call it. Because I really don't know how to pose this question in such a way that an actual test could be designed.

As you can see - the definition itself varies much more widely than many people seem to think initially. While Wonderist, for example, seemed 'mystified' by my attempts to build a circle with tangents - empirically - he does just that - with a great deal of thought. I'm not saying he's right about his conclusions - or that he's wrong. But it does seem that one approach to demonstrating at least the shape of a hole in your knowledge is to describe what you know about everything around it. This is one way that 'dark matter' is being investigated, for example.
Under this definition (which, apparently, isn't universal) I totally agree. If 'will' means the ability to change things without materially interacting - such as 'telekinesis' or 'wishes come true' - sure. But will can be related to will power - more about the level of control of one's own actions - which is a different thing altogether. Nevertheless - authorship or agency remains in question if even our choices are determined by the overall causal gestalt.

I can drive a nail with my mind as long as what I mean is, my mind controls my body which operates a hammer which impacts a nail which penetrates a board.

I think people have very rigid ideas about the definition of 'free will' and the discussion tends to turn on the definitions - not the actual concepts being discussed.
:^D
"Nevertheless - authorship or agency remains in question if even our choices are determined by the overall causal gestalt."

Not if you rely on conscious choice. Then, if the consciousness assents to the choice, then the choice can be unambiguously considered as authored by that consciousness, like a signature stamp of approval.

"I think people have very rigid ideas about the definition of 'free will' and the discussion tends to turn on the definitions - not the actual concepts being discussed."

Exactly the reason to avoid 'free will' and focus on the important concepts, which are embodied by 'conscious choice'.
"I think people have very rigid ideas about the definition of 'free will' and the discussion tends to turn on the definitions - not the actual concepts being discussed."

Defining "free will" is the primary issue with answering your question. If we define "free will" as the ability to make a choice then of course there is no difference.

"Nevertheless - authorship or agency remains in question if even our choices are determined by the overall causal gestalt."

I haven't read or understood many of the responses here so I may be speaking out of turn. In any case, from my fresh perspective I question how appropriate it is to make free agency dependent upon causal gestalt. I don't perceive the cause for the existence of available options as relevant for a free agent to act. If we dictate that a free agent must have control over the causation of available options that doesn't fit with my understanding of the term.

I am not certain how you are using authorship here. In my previous response where I stated that free will requires unlimited options I was speaking in a pure sense and not restricted by human biology or reality. A supernatural being willing the universe into being would be a fine example. I guess this variety of free will would be indistinguishable from omnipotence so I agree that it is far from a universal definition :)
I'm going to write a blog article on this. I'm doing that because I began to respond here and it was turning into a longer article - and this thread is hard enough to continue to follow without adding another page long reply.

I enjoy these threads - as heated as they sometimes get - and always gain insights from nearly all sides.

I'm stating this here because this particular comment helped organize my thoughts in a way that may allow me to compose something that might be of interest in blog form.

Thanks Tom.
Thanks, Phil. I do hope it helps. If I'm unclear or you have disagreements, let me know, as I'm always trying to improve my concepts. These two threads of Howard's are the first time I've tried to argue my position with other atheists. (Usually I use it with theists who bring up free will arguments for god or against atheism/materialism/determinism.) It has actually helped clarify some things for myself as well.
I have a blog post in mind with a related proof. I've put it off because my inner perfectionist fears that it is less than perfect. Nevertheless, I should just do it.
Do it, don't let that stop you. I find that writing things out, even if they're not perfect, *especially* if they're not perfect, helps clarify my thoughts. Without that process, it all makes sense in my head, but I can't express it spontaneously in a conversation. Also, getting feedback from others, even negative feedback, helps clarify things, too.
Shall we say that the difference between free will and free agency is the ability to have some amount of control over the available options?

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