Many consider philosophy to be a strange mysterious category. Others consider it to be a waste of time, or playing language games, or arguing about semantics. There is a general disrespect and distaste towards philosophy, but this disrespect is reinforced by the academic community—including actual philosophy professors, who tend to see philosophy as somewhat inadequate or unreliable.
On the contrary, I believe that we are living in the most exciting time for philosophy in history. Philosophy might not be as reliable as natural science, but it does offer us personal development and improved opinions. It also tends to be about subjects of the greatest importance: Does anything really matter? What is reality made of? Does God exist? Do we know anything for certain? How do we know how to answer any of these questions?
In What is Ancient Philosophy? Pierre Hadot argues that western philosophy used to have a level of respect that it no longer has. The ancient Greeks established a philosophical tradition that was considered by philosophy professors to be the most essential knowledge and human activity. Hadot also introduces a metaphilosophical position: Philosophy was originally intended to be a “way of life.” It was not just about arguments. (This fact seems to reinforce the fact that it was considered important. It is important enough to guide our lives.)
Eventually Christianity came along and decided that philosophy was not so important because the Bible already gives us all the facts we need. Philosophy became the “handmaiden to theology.” Philosophy became a more academic (purely argumentative) activity and it lost the great importance that it was once accorded.
And then many intellectuals and academics rejected the primacy of religion and dogma in favor of natural science. At this point the importance of philosophy was up to debate, but it has often been considered to be either a “handmaiden to science” or a very limited academic activity (such as conceptual analysis). Empiricism grew out of the excitement towards natural science, but it generally denied that philosophy could do anything. (Hume argued that we can’t prove induction works. If he is right, we can’t really know anything!)
Logical positivism inspired many philosophy professors to reject almost all forms of philosophy. Ethics and metaphysics seemed particularly implausible, so philosophy in general would naturally be seen as a peculiar academic activity. It wouldn’t be seen as important or as a “way of life.” Instead, philosophy became conceptual analysis only.
Only very recently have philosophy professors started making some progress in making philosophy important once again. Philosophers, such as Saul Kripke, has helped establish some credibility for philosophy’s importance. (Kripke helped establish a new kind of metaphysical philosophy that was considered much more plausible than any past metaphysics).
Ethics has also started to be considered to be more plausible. John Rawls was one philosopher who helped make ethics more plausible recently.
Overall, we have hit a great period of skepticism towards philosophy (and philosophy’s importance). This period has lasted for thousands of years starting with the Christianizing of Europe, and it peaked with logical positivism.
This skepticism has required philosophy to become more and more convincing, and its importance has consequently become more transparent. Epistemology (theory of knowledge) has undergone significant progress to allow the new founded credibility of philosophy. This is why we are living in a golden age of philosophy. The west has never had so much philosophical progress and credibility. It might only be a matter of time before philosophy can build a strong enough case to become popularized. Perhaps one day everyone will find out how to use philosophy for their personal benefit and self-improvement.