What is the meaning and grammatical structure of the bolded sentence?

In the final paragraphs of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein characterizes psychology as consisting of empirical methods and "conceptual confusion." The methods of psychology appear to provide it with a rigorous means for answering questions about the nature of psychological processes, but problem and methods "pass one another by" (PI, p. 232 e). This situation, and not the fact that psychology is a young science, explains the "barrenness" of psychology. Wittgenstein foresaw that such conceptual confusion could be clarified through an investigation into the character of psychological concepts as such. The beginning of such an investigation was carried out in his remarks published together in the volume entitled Zettel and in the two-volume collection entitled Remarks on the philosophy of psychology.

  • The author is quoting Wittgenstein when he uses the phrase "pass one another by". The citation at the end of the sentence references Wittgenstein's "Philosophical Investigations". The meaning of the phrase in quotation marks therefore depends upon what Wittgenstein meant by it, and without reading PI, it's impossible to say exactly what he meant. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jul 27 '17 at 19:20
  • Thank you. I thought the rest of paragraph (which is the first paragraph of a relatively independent part of a title) is not useful to understand the bolded part. But you are right, I added the rest. – user52346 Jul 27 '17 at 19:29

This is a metaphor, and I don't believe you could necessarily find it pre-defined in a list of English idioms. In this case, "passing one another by" suggests there are two things which do not meet, with "meet" being in the sense of "join together." Imagine two straight lines which should join together at a certain point, but they miss each other instead -- they pass each other by.

By using this metaphor, the writer is suggesting that the methods employed in the field of psychology do not adequately address, solve, or explain the problems which psychology as a field is meant to address.

A related phrase which does have a well-known definition is "at cross purposes." You might also say the methods and problems in psychology are "at odds" with one another.

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  • Thanks a lot. 1.What is the literal meaning of this metaphor? 2.Can we say "pass by one another"? – user52346 Jul 27 '17 at 19:36
  • Literally, they have the same meaning. "Pass by one another" is usually used as a literal phrase: a car on the road passes by another car. When it's "pass one another by," though, the meaning is that two things have the possibility of interacting with each other, but do not. An idiom with a variation of this phrase is "life passing you by," which means one does not take advantage of their opportunities in life. – ArrowCase Jul 27 '17 at 19:42
  • @user52346 cf. "Ships that pass in the night". – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jul 27 '17 at 19:45

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