What is the proper domain of applicability of the neoclassical utility maximization model? For the University of Chicago’s George Stigler and Gary Becker (1977), it is a philosopher’s stone, a framework for resolving all social problems in or out of economies’ traditional realm. Mirowski (1989) carries to its outer limits Veblen’s criticism ( 1934, [1899-1900] 1946) that it fails to describe evolutionary processes. He sees neoclassical economics as an anachronism imported from physics generating “more heat than light”.
Actually, proponents as well as critics of neoclassical economics have built their theories around the fact that utility theory has the same structure as field theories in physics (Edgeworth  1961; Samuelson 1947, 1972). In much the same way as the force of gravity attracts objects in three-dimensional space, utility maps the attraction of individuals to higher levels of satisfaction in a space of commodities. In this chapter we will explore both the power and the limitation of field theory and attempt to arrive at a balanced judgment as to its applicability.
Field theory is a staple of contemporary physics and engineering from microwave transmission to chemical diffusion. Nevertheless, not all problems can be treated in this fashion. One need not appeal to Einstein’s failed search for a grand unified field theory to realize that the method does not solve all problems. Many dynamic processes cannot be integrated in this way. They have come to play a leading role in theoretical physics, but have only begun to find their way into economics.
Field theories work beautifully as long as the objects are at rest. They work less well when the objects are driven by external forces over the field. They run into serious trouble when the path traversed changes the field itself, and they fail completely when the changes induced are so great as to call into question its long-term existence.
The Carnot heat engine will serve as a physical analogue to the economic dynamics induced over a utility field. As a cycling process it may fruitfully