Thomas White was born into a well-established Catholic family from Essex and educated at Continental English Catholic Colleges in St Omer, Valladolid, Seville, Louvain and Douai, where he was ordained as a priest in 1617. He remained as a teacher at Douai, before acting as the official English Catholic agent in Rome from 1625–9. He was then, in 1630, appointed President of the recently founded English College in Lisbon, after which he spent an intellectually formative period as a member of the Mersenne Circle in Paris in the 1640s. In contact with such European luminaries as Descartes, Hobbes, Pascal and Gassendi, White established his own reputation with the publication of important scientific works, De mundo (1642) and Institutionum peripateticarum … pars theorica (1646), the latter translated into English as Peripateticall Institutions in 1656. As an itinerant exile during the later 1640s and early 1650s, White's presence is recorded in Lyons, Rome, Douai and the Netherlands, and he exemplifies the importance of Catholics at this time for the diffusion of ideas through Europe. By 1655 he had returned to London, where he found several outlets for his continuing intellectual energy. He associated with such advocates of the new science as John Hall, John Wallis, John Wilkins and Seth Ward; and with that stimulation he published a number of works on mathematics, including Euclides physicus (1657), which has been claimed as an influence on Leibniz. He also became deeply involved in Catholic politics, acting as leader of a heterodox group who came to be known from his best-known alias as ‘Blackloists’. This faction effectively dominated the English Catholic Chapter until the Restoration, when, as a result of his allegedly pro-Cromwellian political treatise, The Grounds of Obedience and Government (1655), White himself was forced into renewed exile in Holland. Having returned to London in autumn 1662, he continued to write on scientific, philosophical and theological topics, and during his last years, he engaged not only in philosophical discussions with fellow octogenarian Thomas Hobbes, but also in a significant debate on scepticism with Joseph Glanvill that ended only with his death.
From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.