Seeking for Integrity
To start with, let us accept that there is something which is commonly referred to as philosophy, and which, somehow, is objectively necessary in the whole of the human culture. It is only then that we can proceed with determining what this something really is and what kind of necessity it should satisfy.
This preliminary assumption is not as trivial as it may seem to be. Some people feel a deep contempt to any kind of philosophizing, considering it as mere twaddle worth of nothing. Thus, most scientists are apt to believe that "positive" science can answer to any "philosophical" questions in a much clearer and quite unambiguous way, so that there is no need in anything like philosophy, whatever it is or is not. In the same conceited manner, men of action and businessmen would deny everything of no "practical" value, philosophy included. Also, for a layman just superficially acquainted with the history of philosophy, it may seem to be too vague a notion referring to anything at all and hence to nothing.
Such deniers of philosophy do not observe that the very act of acceptance or denial already assumes a kind of philosophy; they would not admit it even when caught philosophizing. Trying to invent a runaround, they enter philosophy once again, and, being unwilling to reflect and unprepared to thorough study, they soon get lost in inconsistencies and finally they cut it short, refusing any discussion at all.
On the other hand, assuming the objective existence of philosophy as a cultural phenomenon puts forth a quite definite ideological position opposing any attempts to dissolve philosophy in purely subjective speculations and political games. That is, the name of philosophy cannot be arbitrarily applied to whatever, and philosophizing is quite different from merely tossing the words. This also implies that there is something that happens regardless of our personal preferences and will, independently of the momentary interests of any social groups (often expressed as the will of some "supreme" being or an a priori prescription), as well as of the level of our understanding and even awareness. Some people would find such "rigidity" rather inconvenient. An objective study must explain both the universal nature of philosophy and the diversity of individual stands.
The word "philosophy" has been used for over two thousand years, designating a kind of human activity. However, in human languages, word usage can be largely uncritical, abusive or metaphorical, and mere enumeration of historical examples is not enough to get the idea of their common core. One needs to decide on what truly deserves the name of philosophy, and what is called philosophy for some other reasons.
In the European tradition, philosophers have often been engaged in philosophizing, a kind of reflection on certain issues of a very general character, sometimes apparently far from the current needs of society. Many philosophers tried to communicate their thoughts to the public in direct conversation (Socrates), by preaching (Pythagoras) and teaching (Aristotle), or in popular writing (Plato). However, there also were those who did not much philosophize and rather preferred to demonstrate their way of thought by action, sticking to an appropriate way of life (like cynics in Europe, as well as many Eastern philosophical schools). Their "enlightening" practices gave impulse to the others' philosophizing, and conversely, somebody's philosophizing would sometimes drive people to significant changes in their life.
We observe that, in any case, philosophy is neither words, nor actions; it must rather be something behind the both, something "inside" a conscious being that makes one behave in a particular way or say something "philosophical".
But what do we usually find "inside" us? The ready answer refers to our feelings and thoughts as the basic elements of subjectivity. However, the realm of feelings has long since been farmed out to art, while science has usurped the domain of thought since the beginning of the XIX century. Is there anything left for philosophy? Many people (especially philosophizing artists and scientists) believe that there is nothing else, and philosophy should be considered as either a sort of art, or a branch of science. Indeed, many philosophers tried to express their ideas in the art-like or science-like form.
Still, there is yet another aspect of our "inner" life, our intentions. In a way, they are like feeling the necessity of doing something. On the other hand, they are like thinking about something necessary. This synthesis of feeling and thought could presumably be related to philosophy.
From this viewpoint, the traditionally "prescriptive" character of philosophy is easily explained. While art tells us what something is (or, at least, what it is like), and science predicts what something can be, philosophy tries to comprehend what something should (and virtually must) be. Neither of these aspects can be omitted in a congruent activity, they are equally important for the development of consciousness. Philosophy suggests the directions of development, and that is why it may sometimes come into conflict with the already established cultural standards; many philosophers suffered for their convictions. Seeking for the future, philosophy may go far beyond the tradition, which hinders the assimilation of the new ideas by the wide public. Such far-reaching philosophizing would seem to be sheer nonsense, and the followers of the doctrine look queer or crazy. Still, it is these cranks who prepare the society for inevitable changes to come much later; they tie the past, the present and the future together.
So, this is what philosophy really does: it seeks for universal integrity. In this way, it comes closer to the very idea of subjectivity than any other form of reflection. However abstract in its form, it is entirely practical in its content. And as soon as we try to achieve more consistency in our acts (including feelings and thoughts), we become philosophers. Philosophy is everywhere, and a conscious being is bound to eventually develop a conscious attitude to philosophy as well.