“An honest mistake” is a mistake committed unintentionally without the intent to hurt anyone or oneself. An ‘Honest Mistake’ may or may not be unethical – it depends on the degree of pain caused, violation of rules and laws, and the degree of guilt felt.
Some may emphasise on an Individual’s character (Virtue Ethics) and to the fact that no Human Being is infallible; others may see the consequences or the rules being defied (Deontological/Teleological Ethics) to decide whether the mistake is ethical or unethical.
If a 6 year old child playfully shoots at his younger sibling using a loaded gun and kills her, it is neither unethical nor unforgivable. The child is ignorant and innocent. It is an honest mistake of whose consequences the child is unaware of.
An honest mistake can be forgiven if the person who has committed mistake immediately realizes, sincerely apologises and bears responsibility to the consequences. Even if the act is unethical, such as killing someone’s pet dog to save a small child on the road if situation demands so.
Forgiveness is the virtue which depends on the value system of the victim. In the example, if the person, who owns the dog, forgives the driver, it’s an example of ethical behaviour as it lessens the guilt of the driver and also makes the forgiver magnanimous. Even though killing the dog is unethical here, the act can be forgiven thanks to the life of child saved as a consequence of this act.
If a surgeon commits a mistake that’s unintentional and results in loss of a life, the act might be considered unethical and unforgivable by the kith and kin of the diseased. Even though the doctor might have wanted to save the patient, he is unsuccessful due to a mistake – intentional or unintentional. Because it’s is his profession, he cannot justify on the grounds of honest mistake. If the death was cause even after following correct procedures, the act is both ethical and forgiveable.
In the recent case of Sharapova’s confession about consuming the banned drug meldonium for past ten years, the act is not an honest mistake as the drug is already a banned drug by USFDA in USA where she is living for past many years. It is unforgivable as it’s a breach of trust of fans, and non-compliance of rules governing the sport. It is unethical as her act has violated equality and fairness in competition.
Thus, an honest mistake can both be ethical and unethical, or forgiveable and non-forgiveable: it depends of circumstances, value system of individuals and society, intent of the act and on the degree of consequences.