Kemp Smith received his doctorate in 1902 from the University of St. Andrews. He lectured in philosophy and psychology at Princeton from 1906 to 1916, and at Edinburgh from 1919 until his retirement in 1945. He is best known for his English translation of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, published in 1929 and often used as the standard English version of the text. His commentaries on the Critique are also well regarded, as are his works on David Hume and other philosophers. He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1947 to 1948. A portrait by the Edinburgh artist Adam Bruce Thomson is held by the University of Edinburgh's Fine Art Collection.