Platonic dialogues that actually involve a significant amount of dialogue generally take the form of the elenchus—this is especially true of Plato's earlier dialogues. The elenchus is both a form of debate and a form of inquiry: by proposing and refuting hypotheses, two people proceed, primarily through negations, toward a positive knowledge (or at least toward an understanding that they do not know what they thought they knew. 

This type of Socratic irony, then, deeply informs the elenchus, Socrates' preferred mode of inquiry. It is important to note that almost all written accounts of Socrates are dialogues (The Apology is an exception)— Socrates never lectures on his beliefs in a one-sided manner. This supports the idea that Socrates has no knowledge of his own to put forward. His method of inquiry consists of identifying what his interlocutor thinks he knows, and then slowly dissecting those claims of knowledge. The Apology, however, is presented almost exclusively in the form of a monologue, because Socrates is not discussing and dismantling any one particular claim so much as he is laying out the method behind these dismantlings. As such, it is an invaluable commentary on the other dialogues.

The elenchus, thus, acts to disabuse Socrates' interlocutors of their pretensions and thereby deepens their wisdom. For Socrates, wisdom and virtue are closely connected, so his efforts serve to improve society as a whole. In Socrates' view, if we are all wise, none of us will ever do wrong, and our self-knowledge will lead to healthier, more fulfilling lives. Thus, the philosopher, according to Socrates, does not merely follow abstract intellectual pursuits for the sake of amusement, but is engaged in activities of the highest moral value.