This Bantam Classics edition presents, through translations by different sources, eight of Plato's "early" dialogues, all involving Socrates, his apotheosized master. Written in the form of question-and-answer sessions, these dialogues profile a man in a continuous quest for the truth, even when he is awaiting his execution, and demonstrate a particular system of gathering information and building knowledge, a system that is nothing less than the foundation of Western thought.
The oracle at Delphi stated that Socrates was the wisest of men because he knew that his wisdom was paltry -- unlike the Sophists, who not only thought they could teach things like virtue and "excellence" to the youth of Athens but also charged money for their tutelage. Since Socrates admits to knowing nothing, he gains all his knowledge through inquiry, deferring to his interlocutors' presumed knowledge, often using sarcasm with the Sophists. His questions commonly use logic of the form "If A is the same as B and B is the opposite of C, isn't A the opposite of C?"
Socrates saw himself as a "gadfly" to Athenian society, always seeking truth -- an absolute truth, as opposed to the moral relativism taught by the Sophists and practiced by the Athenians. His basic interest was inquiring of the way a man should live his life, one conclusion being that to suffer is better than to cause suffering, since the immortal soul is judged constantly by the gods.
Some of the arguments might seem specious to the modern reader, but the importance of reading the dialogues is not necessarily to agree with any particular argument presented but to observe an intensely systematic and organized method of gaining knowledge through interrogatory dialogue. First-hand experience tells me that asking and answering questions is a better way to learn than listening to a one-sided lecture, and reading Plato's Socratic recollections confirms my opinion.
Unfortunately, the public school system of America has eradicated all courses relative to developing a student's ability to reason, and reason well. Rhetoric,and the 'Socratic Method' were essential parts of a collegiate student's curriculum in medieval Europe, and the universities of America would not be remiss in re-introducing this dynamic type of verbal intercourse today.