Oh, boy. 3 votes for closure in less than 24 hours. (How dare you impugn philosophy as misguided in a community of people who do philosophy either professionally or as amateurs with an emphasis on the 'ama', love! ;) It is absolutely both reasonable and welcomed to challenge philosophy.
So, my apologies if the question gets closed, but some philosophers have a hard time admitting that philosophy should ask questions about itself. That is to say, there are some philosophers who reject metaphilosophy (IEP), which is simply the response to the question 'What is philosophy?'. The second reason many people who practice philosophy (whatever that may be) might groan over this question is that among philosophers who scratch the itch to answer (what should be a question every philosophers asks, IMNSHO), there is no canonical response, and disagreement and intellectual hilarity ensue, particularly among people who come to philosophy with an ax to grind. Over the last several years, I've seen people who come and go because they're out to prove through reason 'God exists' (and thus my feelings and faith are justified) or 'philosophy is X' (because only by it being X can they make sense of the world or justify a belief of some sort). Certainly, all philosophers have motivations (philosophers are people too!), but it makes a lot of people who live their lives devoted to reason squirm to admit that reason itself is a preference, is subject to psychological impulses, and is NOT an objective reality. This is uncontroversial among professional logicians because they explore more logics than we laypersons even have names for. An excellent start is the sagacious post by Bumble called In how many and which ways can a logic be non-classical? Are there systems for organizing them?
So, let us admit, that at a bare minimum, philosophy gives us a vocabulary to talk about thought. And talking about thought helps us to understand each other's thoughts. In fact, there are two great and mostly political Western philosophical traditions, analytical philosophy (IEP) and Continental philosophy (IEP), and BOTH have esteemed traditions of tackling the questions that inhere to philosophy of mind; both traditions which are claimed by many to trace back to Immanuel Kant and his work. Modern analytical philosophy has bore a certain fruit to that extending logic to psychology and langauge, and then to cognitive science and wrapping it up in various theories regarding what the mind is like: the Mind/Brain Identity Theory (SEP) bringing together questions about mind and body, thought and the universe, and otherwise talking about the whole shebang. If you're into science, then you should be into neural correlates of consciousness, because they lay the groundwork for these sorts of philosophical theories. But that's my cup of tea, so you're free to go in another direction and adopt another language to talk about thought. In fact, most philosophers with half a brain accept philosophical pluralism. Why? Because logical pluralism (SEP) is undeniable. Scientific pluralism (IEP) is undeniable. And axiological pluralism is undeniable, the last being the root of the others. Now, if you are a materialist, the explanation is probably rooted in something like the somatic marker hypothesis and thus, some philosophy that might best be understood as embodied cognition. But again, I recognize pluralism, and I merely make these claims to taunt absolutist thinkers who can barely wrap their mind around situational ethics and non-cognitive emotivism, let alone accept their roles in a broader pluralist foundation. Who knows. Maybe you're one of them. Let's just look at the state of the professional field.
In An Introduction to Metaphilosophy (GB), the authors spend the first chapter covering some of the conceptions of what philosophy is imputed to do. Once you pin down WHAT philosophy is imputed to do, then you can speculate as to WHY philosophy does it. Then, you can see all the ways that philosophical discourse is actually probably the most important discourse a person can participate in, contrary to the initial stupidity of Bill Nye, the Science Guy (sorry to exemplify you, Bill!). You should read Bill Nye, the science guy, says I convinced him that philosophy is not just a load of self-indulgent crap. He's not the best spokesperson, you'll clearly find people like that here. ; )
According to Overgaard et al.:
In asking why anyone should engage in philosophical reflection, one question we need to address is what sort of results we can expect from it, and, in particular, whether they are the same sort of results we get from science, history, and other subject, which deliver truths about the world.
That's pretty darn sensible, IMNSHO. As the entire book is essentially devoted to answer your question, I can't possible fit everything they say in the response, but I'll just give you an off-the-cuff list of benefits of contemporary philosophy. It:
- Helps us make sense of a world over-brimming with information.
- Explains why sciences are better than pseudosciences.
- Provides a common language for our disparate experiences.
- Helps us to ascertain some degree of certainty about anything and everything.
- Gives us a sense of identity and culture through a broad, flexible methodology.
- Allows us to see how all of the 'ologies' and all the theories of the world relate.
- Enforces the importance of rhetoric, informal logic, and formal logic
- Plumbs the depths of psycholinguistics, linguistics, and natural and artificial languages
- Provides a fantastic way to study history
- Improves our cognition and provides health benefits as per contemporary research
- Gives us hope that the world will become a better place and the human race will survive itself
- Keeps us from getting bored
- Allows us to establish resilient identities
I could go on generating claims for another 20 minutes, because, given my views, philosophy isn't a topic of content, its a methodology and an approach to life that began with the Ancient Greeks and is culminating in being the primary driving force behind the development of artificial intelligence, which besides the atom bomb, is one of the most powerful and emotionally exhausting technologies that exists.
So, my advice to you, is start with An Introduction to Metaphilosophy, and then move on to D&G's What is philosophy? (avoid Heidegger's to begin with!) so you can get a start with a foot in both the analytical and Continental traditions (I try to show respect to our European kith and kin when possible), and THEN roll backwards into various arguments made by Russell or Quine or 100 other famous philosophers who have attempted to answer your question.