My question is about real vs. nominal definitions.
It is generally, though not universally, held that to come up with a real definition, one needs to investigate the world to discover the properties of the entity denoted by the term. So for example, to provide a real definition of the term "tiger," one would need to look at tigers to determine their characteristics.
My question is: does this characterization of real definitions imply that one can make assertions about real definitions that are true or false? Consider the following: I fix the denotation of the term "tiger" (pointing to several large cats), and then provide the following real definition of "tiger": an eight-legged invertebrate.
Can I accurately say that the real definition I provided for "tiger" is false? Likewise, is the correct real definition of tiger: a large four-legged cat, true?
Great question! The idea of there being "real definitions" is linked to the idea that there are natural kinds or types of things and that we can discover these. So, we can discover what makes a tiger a tiger and come to know that those animals we recognize as tigers are vertebrates and thus know it would be wrong or misleading to define a tiger as "an eight-legged invertebrate." We can, however, take a well defined term like "tiger" and give it a different, perhaps analogous meaning as when Spider Man is hailed by Jane in their first meeting as "a tiger," evidently meaning something like he is a beautiful, exotic, perhaps wild creature.