Quentin Smith was born in Rhinebeck, New York. His father was a psychology professor at Bennington College and he spent most of his early life in Canada. He received his bachelor's degree in philosophy from Antioch College, advancing to receive a PhD in philosophy from Boston College. After this, he received a job as assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Kentucky. Smith found that he could not afford to lose the time he spent teaching, so he resigned from the university to become an independent scholar. After accepting a position as a visiting professor at Antioch College, he took a position as professor of philosophy at Western Michigan University in 1993 and retired in 2015.