Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Melanie Holm

Second Advisor

Christopher Orchard

Third Advisor

Michael T. Williamson


This study examines the problem of evil during the eighteenth-century, beginning with the philosophical optimism of Leibniz, Pope, and Kant and extending to the skeptical deism of Swift, Hume, Diderot, and Voltaire. In each case, literary genre plays a central role in shaping the argument of these writers, as form matches the style of argument. The study evaluates the apocalyptic prophecies of Richard Brothers, Joanna Southcott, and Dorothy Gott as an extenuation of philosophical optimism fueled by religious enthusiasm. While reading and interpreting scripture, these writers produced their own versions of scripture, combining exegesis with personal narrative. The study closes with the satirical approaches of William Blake and Heinrich von Kleist, who eschew the problem of evil for an emphasis on the power of imagination and human potential for action. The study is grounded in the 1755 earthquake at Lisbon, the death and destruction of which influenced the arguments of many of these writers.