There was an article a couple days back in the Chronicle of Higher Education called “What People Just Don’t Understand About Academic Fields.” (Unfortunately, I can’t link to it because apparently you have to be a subscriber—but it doesn’t really matter for this post.) The article included a few paragraphs from a handful of professors in different fields each talking about what most people don’t seem to understand about what they do or why they do it. None of the entries struck me as all that interesting, but they did remind me of an essay by Isaiah Berlin which has been bothering me for awhile. The essay is called “Philosophy and Government Repressession” (1954) and was printed in The Sense of Reality. In trying to correct what he thinks is a common “misunderstanding of what philosophy is and what it can do,” Berlin argues that second- and third- rate philosophers are essentially worthless, except as obstacles to be overcome by truly great thinkers.
I'll add that for 99% of people that actually stay around long enough to really get a taste, academic philosophy is not philosophy, but it is some long developed set of skills and techniques tied to some very narrowly defined problems and issues, that really in the end seem to have little application in the real world, not that philosophy in general has any application, but that to understand philosophy is to have perhaps a richer life in some respects.